May 18, 2024

48-Hour Primer

Defensive tackle Miles Fox -- photos by Cameron Bartlett

Quick Hits from Day 7 of Blue Bombers camp leading up to Monday’s preseason game in Regina against the Saskatchewan Roughriders…

B-E-L-I-E-V-E: Miles Fox had every reason to arrive in Blue Bombers camp a confident man. A solid dude with shoulders as wide as Pembina Highway, Fox parachuted into Winnipeg a year ago after being released by the B.C. Lions and spent most of the year on the practice roster — he did dress for two games — while trying to get a feel for his new surroundings.

Still, in the wide and wacky world of pro football a guy learns to never takes anything for granted. And so while Fox came into training camp as the leading contender to fill the defensive tackle spot left vacant after the departure of Ricky Walker, he also knew he had to keep his head down and grind, grind, grind.

“Sometimes I overthink things a lot,” Fox said. “Before the season I was like, ‘I’m just so nervous. S-o-o nervous.’ And then after conversations with a couple people I was told that I don’t need to be anything more than just me. Just go out and do the things I’m good at because every player on this defence is a piece of the puzzle. Everyone brings their own talent and their own unique ability and as long as I bring mine and know what I’m doing, everything should fit together perfectly.”

A starter during his college days at Old Dominion and Wake Forest, Fox was in a mini-camp with the Buffalo Bills in 2022 before coming north to the B.C. Lions later that year. Cut by the Lions last season, he was en route to Winnipeg not long after.

Jake Kelly and Miles Fox from Saturday’s practice

“When I first got here Osh (head coach Mike O’Shea) walked up to me and told me a couple things he wanted me to improve on my game and I took that seriously,” Fox said. “Ever since then, being the new guy you always want to prove yourself. You come into a new environment and you don’t know what to expect. There’s a new culture you have to adapt to and earn your way. That’s what I tried to do every day and just be my best, work hard and show everybody I was a worker.

“They’ve won a lot of football games here, won a couple Grey Cups and so if they believe in me that I can be the man for the job, how can I not have confidence in myself? I’m just so excited to be here and do what I do.”

That’s the word — ‘confident’ — Fox used to describe the first week of his 2024 training camp with the Blue Bombers. Comfortability matters, as does familiarity. And having a starting job there for the taking can be a big motivator. Helping fuel all that is that sense of belief he’s received from almost everyone around him.

“Having my teammates believe in me, having my coaches believe in me just gives me so much confidence,” he said. “I’m going out every day feeling confident in myself, knowing what I’m doing, knowing that I can do it at a high level. It’s fun to go out there and battle with my guys. I’m learning from Willie (Jefferson) every play, from (Adam) Bighill sitting behind me quizzing me in the meetings saying, ‘Why’d you do this? What are you seeing here?’ so I can know the concept behind it. It’s really benefitted me a lot.

“I’ve waited for this opportunity for a long time… in any league. Being cut from B.C., obviously in the moment it really hurt, but I feel like God brought me to a better situation for me and I just thank him every day for that. Hearing from the coaches I have a chance to earn this spot, it means the world and it motivates me every single day to get out here and do my best.

“As soon as I got that call I knew I wanted to come here. It was Sask first (who called him) and then Winnipeg and I was, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to Winnipeg.'”

A preseason playbook: O’Shea spoke after practice about Monday’s game in Regina and what he and the coaching staff, as well as the football management team, might be watching.

“Winning’s always good. Regardless of the outcome of the game we’re going to learn from it,” he said. “What you want to see is the guys have a good understanding of how they need to play the game. You need to see them take all the reps they’ve had in training camp and apply it out there on the field. They’re not going to be mistake-free, but you want to see guys play hard even through mistakes and not think as much and see how much they know their stuff.

“There’s going to be so much information to digest after this game… I don’t even know if we’re going to be able to list all the stuff you would see. Some of the stuff isn’t even on a list and you just notice the way a play unfolds and you go, ‘Ahh, that’s interesting’ and you mark it down. Certainly in this one you want to see guys play the game the way it should be played. There’s going to be mistakes, there always is. And if we limit them, we’ll be happier than if we make a bunch of them. We all understand the framework of what we’re dealing with here.”

Ultimately, Monday — and the preseason finale on May 31 vs. Calgary — is about guys fighting for jobs.

Mike O’Shea

“And as coaches we cannot take that lightly,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure they’re fresh enough to play, have a good handle on what’s going to be called – what they’re being asked to do – and don’t over-tax them in that regard. Like I said earlier in the week, we’re not trying to smash them with stuff and see who comes out. We want to this one to be they feel good, they feel comfortable, and they can show us what they can do. I don’t know why we would eliminate guys just by overloading them for the sake of over-loading them. I don’t know if that makes sense.

“Let’s see what they can do out there so we put them in spots with things they can do and not miss on a guy.”

FYI: O’Shea and his staff were still finalizing their roster for Monday’s preseason game Saturday afternoon, but he did confirm Zach Collaros would not be making the trip. Chris Streveler, Terry Wilson and Eric Barriere handled the bulk of the work during Saturday’s practice, with Collaros getting some throws in and then watching the rest of the session… Players who have yet to practice SB Nic Demski, RB Brady Oliveira and S Brandon Alexander… O’Shea on what attracted the club to offensive tackle Eric Lofton — the former Bomber who started 14 games at right tackle for the Riders last year — in free agency: “He’s been there and done it. That kind of experience in our game, understanding how to play that edge and widen it, how defences attack you… look at our team — we love experience. So when we go to free agency we’re often looking at guys that have experience.”

Comings/goings: The Blue Bombers added two and released two on Saturday, bringing aboard receiver Josh Vann (5-10, 190, South Carolina) and defensive back Michael Griffin (5-11, 210, South Dakota State). Released were receiver K.J. Hill and defensive back Marcus Hillman. O’Shea on Hill, who arrived in camp with a bit of hype as the all-time leading receiver at Ohio State: “His body just wasn’t responding.”

Next: The Blue Bombers travel to Regina on Sunday before Monday’s first preseason game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Victoria Day Monday, with the kickoff at 3 p.m. CDT.