May 13, 2024

Quick Hits | Training Camp — Day 2

Blue Bombers defensive end Celestin Haba -- photos by Cameron Bartlett

Notes and quotes from the second day of the Blue Bombers main training camp…

Stepping up, stepping in: It’s just two days into main Blue Bombers training camp and a scene has already played out on repeat: Celestin Haba exploding off the edge from his defensive end position in one-on-ones over and over and over again.

And that’s already a massive development for the football club as it seeks out a replacement for Jackson Jeffcoat, who retired in the offseason after he racked up 38 sacks in his days with the club — eighth all-time in franchise history.

“It’s a different mindset compared to last year,” said Haba after Monday’s session. “I’m more focussed, more confident, but at the same time not too confident. It’s still an open competition. I just try to put my best foot forward and know that I’m competing for that spot at the end of the day.”

Haba showed flashes a year ago, racking up four sacks in eight games after arriving in camp at the end of May and suiting up for a preseason game three days later and then earning a spot on the Week 1 roster. In that game he came off the bench to replace an injured Jeffcoat and racked up his first sack by bringing down Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. He did the same thing a week later against Saskatchewan, and the week after that against B.C.

Just imagine, then, what this guy might be able to do with a full camp under his belt and a better understanding of Winnipeg, the Blue Bombers way and the three-down game.

“Last year is last year. I made plays last year, but that’s in the past,” Haba said. “It’s, what am I going to do this year?’ I try to challenge myself: what else can you bring to the table? Can you do it again or was that a facade? I try to get into the mindset of, ‘Let’s turn it up a notch.’

“Last year, it was definitely something I wasn’t used to. I walked in and didn’t know what to expect. But now, when I came to Winnipeg two days ago it just felt like I never left. It was that type of feeling. I was glad to be back. Soon as I walked into the locker room, saw my old teammates, saw a couple new faces, but it felt like, ‘OK, I’m home.’ Texas is home, but this is home to me. I feel very comfortable here. I feel like I belong here.”

One of Haba’s best skills is what he does off the field as a person and a teammate. There are no bad days in his world and he brings an enthusiasm which rubs off on others.

“He certainly is a worker. I know he can get it done,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “He stepped on the field and made plays right away. He certainly made an impression that he was going to make plays and part of it was him just trying to figure out what kind of shape he needed to be in to play this game. He’s got a good work ethic, he’s got a good motor and he refuses to be tired which, at that spot, is pretty important.

“Coming in (last year) whenever time he came in at he made a pretty immediate impression as to what kind of guy he was with his character — he fit right away. I enjoy seeing him every day. I know if I get the chance to pass him in the hallway I feel good. That says something, too — he’s going to work hard to fit and he’s got the ability to fit in with every group he walks by on a daily basis, which is pretty cool. He’s productive and he looks really good this year, like every second-year guy does — they come in with a comfort, not in terms of taking it easy and being secure in their job, but comfort in just what they’re being asked to do and how to navigate the day and how to navigate training camp. He looks really good out there.”

Haba was fully prepared to return this year to Winnipeg to grind for more work behind Jeffcoat and Willie Jefferson. That changed when Jeffcoat announced his retirement in the winter. The two still correspond and Haba was there when Jeffcoat was saluted by his old high school in Plano, Texas and added to the Plano Independent School District Hall of honor


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“When I heard (Jeffcoat) was gone, it was just like, ‘OK, that’s an open spot. So be prepared to try and make the best out of it so I can put myself in position to have that starting spot.’ My mindset is to step right into his shoes. He wears a size 12, I wear a size 12, too. I’m just going with the flow and know how they operate the Winnipeg way and I’ll keep doing that to the best of my abilities.

“Those two guys (Jeffcoat and Jefferson), there ain’t no comparing to them. I just feel like I’m the best version of me. Those are great guys to learn from and I’m blessed to be able to learn from both of them.”

And don’t sleep on…: Two other candidates to consider in the fight to replace Jeffcoat are TyJuan Garbutt, who played in one game for the club last year, and Chauncey Rivers — the former Mississippi State star who had stints in the NFL with Baltimore and Green Bay before a torn ACL sidelined him. He last played in the XFL with the Houston Roughnecks in 2023 and gained some notoriety when he played at East Mississippi Community College and had a prominent role in the Netflix series ‘Last Chance U.’

Rivers and Blue Bombers linebacker Brian Cole were teammates at Mississippi State and that connection helped bring the 26-year-old Georgian to Winnipeg.

“I reached out to Brian, just told him, ‘Hey, I need an opportunity to come play.’ And Danny (McManus, Blue Bombers Assistant GM/Director of U.S. Scouting), he told me he’s been trying to get me since college, and I didn’t even know that,” said Rivers. “I didn’t know anything about CFL. Brian told me just give it a shot. I did UFL for like two weeks, ended up being cut. And then I came out here. It’s been good.

“Cole told me it’s a good opportunity, good things happen here. I mean, they’ve been to the championship the last four years, so gotta be some good coaching, good players, and they’re having their guys responsible for everything, so I like that.”

Rivers was dismissed from the University of Georgia in his first college stint and those troubles landed him at East Mississippi. That experience helped him get his head right again and in “regaining the image I wanted to portray to coaches and GMs.

“It was great, honestly. I wouldn’t take nothing back. That made me the player I am today, that made me the person I am today, and made me be able to hold myself responsible everything that I do. Just put the best foot forward every day, just come out here and get better every day. Don’t worry about all the distractions, just focus on football, that’s all I want to do.”

Worth noting: in a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills, Rivers managed to sack Josh Allen.

“So, that was kinda memorable,” said Rivers with a grin. “He’s a future hall of famer.”

And Rivers has already attached himself to the hip of another future hall of famer in Jefferson.

“Willie’s been one of the guys who I’ve been constantly picking his brain and asking him questions,” he said. “Every day I just ask him questions like ‘Hey, what’s this right here? What do I do on here?’ We out here in practice and every day I’m lining up with him, I’m trying to work my technique with him, see what he sees. He’s a vet in this league, a guy everyone looks up to and he’s a great leader. I’m just trying to be like him, honestly. Just learn everything I can from him.”

Soaking it all up: University of Manitoba QB Jackson Tachinski was on the field on Monday with the club after starring in the weekend’s East-West Game for U Sports players eligible for the 2025 CFL Draft. Tachinski let the West team to victory, throwing for the only TD of the game and leading his squad in rushing. He’s in camp with the Bombers again as part of the CFL QB Internship and loving every nanosecond — including a session in the morning where he was able to throw to Kenny Lawler and Dalton Schoen — and then being in the same room with Zach Collaros and Chris Streveler.

Jackson Tachinski

“As a kid I grew up in these stands throughout the years going to Bomber games, seeing these guys out on the field… it’s really cool to be out here playing with them,” Tachinski said. “Zach, Streveler… they’re really good quarterbacks so it’s cool being in the same quarterback room with them because I’ve been watching them on TV and in the stands so it’s awesome to be out here.

“It’s cool to Zach work. He’s been around the game for a long time and he’s so surgical with everything his does. His feet are so precise, his throws are so precise, his eyes are so precise. So, I’m just trying to talk to him, him giving me tips with the things I can work on. Same with Chris, talking to him… I like to run myself, too, so talking to a quarterback that has a similar playing style is going to be pretty cool. I’m just excited for the weeks coming.”