May 21, 2024

Upon Further Review | Preseason #1

Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Jonathan Rosery (32) runs the football against Saskatchewan Roughriders during the first half of preseason CFL football action in Regina, Monday, May 20, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Heywood Yu

The visitors dressing room at Mosaic Stadium is spacious by Canadian Football League standards, with enough room for players to roam about pre-game and post-skirmish without tripping all over themselves.

And then there was late Monday afternoon/early evening, not long after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had fallen 25-12 to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the first preseason game of 2024. Stuffed with bodies – the Blue Bombers travelled 79 players to Regina, almost three dozen more than usual – and with an extra row of metal chairs jammed into the centre, the space had become a claustrophobic’s absolute nightmare.

In the middle of it all sat Blue Bombers running back/slotback Jonathan Rosery on one of the temporary chairs — and all the while sporting a massive first-game-as-a-pro grin.

“It was surreal,” began Rosery in a chat with “I was really nervous at first, not about the playbook, but because it felt like I hadn’t played football in a long time. It’s weird, but that first contact felt really good. Once I got out there, and realized it’s still football – yes, the guys are bigger, faster stronger – but I’ve been playing football for 13 years and once I calmed my mind, calmed my body, I felt good out there.”

It showed. In a game that featured a revolving door of personnel in all three phases – that’s the point of preseason, after all – Rosery was solid with three carries for 12 yards and two catches for 19 yards. His five touches topped all offensive players on a day when the offence understandably went through choppy periods and had only two drives of five plays or more – one leading to a field goal by Sergio Castillo, the second a Terry Wilson-to-Kevens Clercius touchdown late in the game.

Rosery was a seventh-round pick of the Blue Bombers in the 2023 CFL Draft and attended camp last year before suffering a mild injury that sidetracked him. Returning to the University of Alberta, he continued to be a versatile slotback/running back for the Golden Bears – essentially in the same role Nic Demski played during his days at the University of Manitoba.

Rosery in University of Alberta colours

“After camp here last year and I went back and I knew I had to concentrate on my U of A season first,” Rosery explained. “Once that season was over, I had to get back in the gym to get bigger and stronger. I’m a pretty versatile guy and I knew I needed to improve my route running as a receiver and improve my pass blocking as a running back.

“I’ve watched Nic, for sure. I call him ‘The Corner Specialist’ because he’s so good at running the corner route. I know when I was drafted that’s who I was being compared to a little bit, so I studied his routes and his play in the backfield so I could mimic his game.”

The emerging question now for Rosery is this: if he follows up his first effort with another solid outing in the final preseason game against the Calgary Stampeders on May 31st how will the Blue Bombers find room for him? Brady Oliveira is an absolute lock to start at tailback and has a proven veteran behind him in Johnny Augustine. The club also drafted Michael Chris-Ike this year to bolster that depth and possibly morph into a fullback. Yet, Rosery can also provide depth at slot, too, and his work through camp has many taking notice.

“I’m so excited to play at home now because now I know I can play with these guys, and I know what CFL football is all about,” he said.

“I know I need to work way harder on special teams and I know what to expect now.”

Our game recap can be found here and more on the Blue Bombers preseason debut in the first UPON FURTHER REVIEW of 2024…

THREE NUMBERS THAT JUMP OUT… after a longer look at the stats package, available here:

Terry Wilson in Monday’s preseason game in Regina

1 – QB Terry Wilson stepped behind centre in the third quarter and completed just one of his first four pass attempts to start. He finished the game connecting on eight of his last 10 attempts, including the eight-yard TD strike to Clercius for the Blue Bombers only TD. Wilson finished 10-of-15 for 115 yards.
Eric Barriere didn’t look as comfortable after he replaced starter Chris Streveler and was just 3-of-7 for 23 yards and two interceptions. He completed all three of his passes on one drive that led to a Sergio Castillo 53-yard bomb of a field goal but was also at the helm for three of the five sacks surrendered.

2 – Consider this a number based on the circumstances: Winnipeg was penalized nine times for 112 yards (the Riders were 9-85). That’s to be expected given the number of new faces in their first CFL game, but here’s why the infractions will be such an important teaching point and stressed in the next week leading up to the final preseason game – the Blue Bombers have been the least-penalized team in the CFL for six straight years.

Of note, seven of the nine Blue Bombers infractions were on defence, the other two on special teams.

3 – Offensive second-down conversions are critical in the preseason because it keeps the attack on the field and allows for longer evaluations of everyone. Winnipeg converted just 8-of-20 second downs, or 40 percent. Of the 12 drives, one ended in a TD, two on field goals, two were interceptions, one ended in a fumble while there were six punts.

THE HUGE SMILE ON THE FACE… of Kevens Clercius post-game spoke volumes. We highlighted Clercius in our new pre-game column ‘The Lede’ and in his first pro outing he finished with two catches for 16 yards and the TD reception from Wilson.

Kevens Clercius celebrates with Jaylen Hall after his touchdown

“It was a crazy moment for sure,” Clercius said. “Once I got my first drive in, after that I felt comfortable. It really was a dream come true for me and so unbelievable. It was wild. I was watching the game and looked up at the time and the quarter was already almost over. The game goes by was faster than U.S. college football.

“(The TD catch) was special. Hopefully it’s the first of many.”

THERE’S STILL SO MUCH… to be determined in camp in the fight for the vacant starting jobs at right tackle, left guard, defensive tackle, defensive end, cornerback and linebacker while Bighill recuperates, as well as the main kick return gig.

The work of Tyrique McGhee and Tyrell Ford at corner was solid and we’ll defer on the O-line stuff until we have a chance to speak to more people in the know. One spot the team seems to have found capable replacements in the wake of the Jackson Jeffcoat retirement over the winter is at defensive end.

TyJuan Garbutt and Chauncey Rivers both had sacks on Monday and Celestin Haba brought some heat and there is a solid collection of possibilities to line up opposite Willie Jefferson.

“This D-line is deep, very deep,” said Haba, who had four sacks in eight games last year for the Blue Bombers. “Don’t be surprised if you see a lot of new faces because we’re all making plays.

“It was fun to get out on the field again and actually hit somebody and actually tackle somebody other than us. It was a great way to start off. Myself, I felt like I played solid. Of course, there’s always going to be things you can fix and whatnot, but overall, I’m pretty happy with my performance even though there’s work to be done.

“It’s important now to not just look at the good but look at what you need to fix so that the next time it’s even better. That’s big for all of us right now.”