May 14, 2024

Quick Hits | Training Camp — Day 3

Blue Bombers draft pick Gabe Wallace -- photos by Cameron Bartlett

Notes and quotes from a soggy Day 3 at Blue Bombers training camp…

First impression: The press release blasted out Tuesday morning on the signing of Michael Chris-Ike — the Blue Bombers second-round draft pick who just arrived in camp — lists him at 6-1, 225 pounds. Now, we’re in no way suggesting the Delaware State running back, a proud product of Hamilton, Ont., be remeasured, it’s just that some guys fill out a football uniform better than others.

And let’s put it this way: it doesn’t look like Chris-Ike has missed a single day at the gym. As head coach Mike O’Shea put it during his media availability after practice and after a quick convo with Chris-Ike as he was getting sized up for a helmet prior to the session: “Very athletic and very fit.”

Michael Chris-Ike with Blue Bombers RB coach Jason Hogan at practice on Monday

First impressions can be lasting ones and Chris-Ike doesn’t just pass the eyeball test. He won over the Blue Bombers brass leading up to the CFL Combine in Winnipeg in the spring with a selfless, team-first approach. His interview with the media after practice reaffirmed that.

“The goal,” he began, “is to be the best I can be and help the team win — whatever that can be, wherever I can show my value, that’s my goal.”

Chris-Ike was a late arrival to Blue Bombers camp after first attending rookie mini-camp with the New York Jets, and then the New Orleans Saints last weekend. His statistics at Delaware State hardly scream out — he had just 15 carries last year for the Hornets — but his testing numbers were eye-popping and that led to the NFL interest. He was one of the standouts at the CFL Combine, posting the fastest times in the 40-yard dash (4.51 seconds), 3-cone drill (6.71 seconds) and short shuttle (4.19 seconds).

“The highlight (of the Jets/Saints camps) was the experience and learning to be a pro,” said Chris-Ike of his two weekends with NFL teams. “It’s all the ins and outs you don’t see behind the scenes. When you’re watching from home you don’t really see the preparation that goes in hand, learning that and then learning the offence and all that stuff.

“I tried to stay in the moment, in the present, and stay focussed on the task at hand. I knew I was drafted here, of course, so it’s hard in the back (of your mind) to cancel out everything. But I tried to stay in the present moment and where my feet are.”

Interestingly, Chris-Ike believes his time with the Jets and Saints also helped prepare him for his arrival in Winnipeg — despite missing last week’s rookie camp and the first two days of main camp.

“It prepared me for what I’m coming into,” he said. “Before doing that I wouldn’t have had any idea of what training camp with a pro-level team would be like. But after doing that, I feel like it prepared me more for this now. But I have to catch up.”

Chris-Ike would provide depth behind Brady Oliveira and Johnny Augustine at tailback and with his body-type would seemingly be a natural to take reps at fullback. That versatility, plus his special-teams tape and his willingness to remain at Delaware State knowing his carries were going to drop are all part of the package that endeared him to Blue Bombers brass.

“It was probably just unfortunate circumstances last year with the number of carries he was going to get. It happens,” said O’Shea. “But I like when you hear the stories and you find out a guy knows he might not be as involved and he sticks it out and he finds other ways to help his team. Those kind of things carry a lot of weight in our minds. So, I’m looking forward to get to know him a little better — I really just met him today. We liked how he spoke (in an interview at the CFL Combine) to us and, for the limited number of touches you like what you see on film.

“It’s the intangibles; the decisions he’s made that endear us to him, besides his physicality. He can do a lot of different things — it’s up to us to put him in those positions. Once again, in talking to him prior to drafting to him, you know he’s going to be willing which, I think, is a big thing.”

Checking in on…: Kevens Clercius has a similar story, and a similar skill set, to Chris-Ike. Selected one pick before Chris-Ike — second round, 13th overall — Clercius stayed at the University of Connecticut rather than change schools when new recruits arrived in the transfer portal. That loyalty to school and team-first approach also scored him big points with Blue Bomber evaluators.

“In the day and age in the NCAA where everybody just packs up and leaves year after year after year, we’ve got a couple guys who chose to stick it out with the team even though they knew they might see limited action,” said O’Shea. “Not just that, they found other roles for themselves. We like that in kids these days.”

Kevens Clercius

Here’s Clercius on his first handful of practices as a Blue Bomber:

“It’s been five practices and I’ve had to adjust to getting all this information — this playbook is heavy and so I’ve spent a lot of time by myself and with the coaches learning the concepts, the run plays, the pass plays. At first it was really challenging, but I feel like day by day I get better and more comfortable. Obviously I have a lot to do to just be able to line up and play fast, but that’s what the first week has been about — to learn as much information so I can play at a high level.”

Meanwhile, the Blue Bombers third pick in the draft, 17th overall, is man-mountain offensive lineman Gabe Wallace who stands 6-6 and weighs 344. He’s also made an immediate impression since camp started.

“It’s been amazing,” said Wallace. “There’s a lot to learn, a lot to take in but the coaches are great if you’ve got any questions. And now that the vets are in, they’re helping me with everything — with anything I have questions about they have about five answers as to how I can handle it. I don’t think I’ve ever taken this many notes in my entire life.

“With this O-line room, you’re not afraid to ask something. These guys are great — in my opinion and many people’s opinion it’s the best O-line in the league — and they’re more than willing to help you out with technique, schemes or anything. They feed off each other, talking constantly when they’re discussing stuff. There’s just so much information being passed between everyone and I’m just trying to absorb as much as I can.”

Of note: DE Shawn Lemon was back on the field with the Montreal Alouettes at training camp on Tuesday after appealing an indefinite suspension levied upon him by the league in late April after it was discovered he bet on league games, including one the CFL says he participated in while with the Calgary Stampeders.

The league issued a statement on Tuesday after Lemon returned to the Als.

And O’Shea was asked for his thoughts on the betting issue after practice on Tuesday.

“I’ve enjoyed a fairly long relationship with the CFL,” he said. “I prefer to go forward keeping the integrity of the league intact. So I don’t see any place in this league for people that bet on our football games, bet on their own football games. That’s just the way I feel. I really take a lot of pride in this league and the integrity of this league has had and for the length this league has been around… it’s an iconic Canadian organization. I don’t think it should be called into question with this new wave of gambling that’s going on.”

CFL players and staff are required to watch videos on gambling as well as on the league’s social media policy, concussions, on prevention of the use of performance enhancing drugs and gender-based violence.

FYI: All CFL teams must reduce their rosters to 75 (not including non-counters like draft picks) by 11 p.m. tonight… O’Shea on the Zach Collaros/Chris Streveler combo: “They’re both serious competitors and there’s a lot of similarity there with how badly they want to beat the opponent. But then on the field their skillsets are a little different. Obviously, we’re going to use Chris in a different way. I mean, I’m sure that’s pretty obvious to all our opponents that we’re going to try to use him in a different way. They certainly compliment each other and we’ll see what Buck (Pierce, offensive coordinator) puts together out there, but I’m sure it will look pretty good.”

Next: Wednesday’s session is scheduled to go from 8:30 a.m.-11:50 a.m. at Princess Auto Stadium.