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May 29, 2024

48-Hour Primer | Preseason #2

Nic Demski returned to practice Wednesday -- photos by Cameron Bartlett

Every training camp can take on a theme, from a new coach implementing his vision to a fresh-faced quarterback spreading his wings; from a team undergoing a massive overhaul to one essentially running back the entire crew from the year before.

And as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers completed the final full practice of their 2024 camp — walk-through practice goes Thursday and the final preseason game is Friday night against the Calgary Stampeders at Princess Auto Stadium before cut-down day comes Saturday — we’d describe this year’s event as a bit of a smorgasbord of storylines.

This is a team built on continuity and that remains in place with the likes of Zach Collaros, Willie Jefferson, Brady Oliveira, Pat Neufeld, Kenny Lawler, Nic Demski, Jake Thomas and on and on the list goes. That said, there will be changes after the departures of Jermarcus Hardrick, Geoff Gray, Jackson Jeffcoat, Rasheed Bailey, Janarion Grant and Demerio Houston and two tweaks to the coaching staff — with Jordan Younger now the defensive coordinator and Mike Miller the special teams coordinator — likely mean different looks there, too.

Over-shadowing all of that has been one constant: the number of veteran players who did not participate or were limited in camp and the hit to the defensive depth with injuries to the likes of Adam Bighill, Jamal Parker and Cam Lawson. Some of that is by design and some of that is to be expected in a violent, physical game, but it has been a very real theme since main camp opened on May 12th.

The Blue Bombers got some good news this week with Neufeld and Demski both returning to work after missing most of camp and the indication from head coach Mike O’Shea is that Oliveira will be good to go when the curtain rises with the season opener against the Montreal Alouettes on June 6th.

Demski hauls in a toss from Collaros

Demski, who said he was out with what he termed a ‘hiccup’, was back doing his thing as he and Collaros found their chemistry on his first day back.

“I don’t want to miss camp. I still want to be out here,” Demski told a throng of reporters after practice. “I was still out here with the guys just making sure I’m locked in mentally and seeing the pictures and seeing defensive pictures. Any time you’re away from training camp and not working with the guys obviously it’s not the best or most ideal situation, but you just roll with the punches.

“The sun is shining, which is nice. Apparently that’s rare in this month of May, but it’s a good day. It’s the last day of camp so there was good positive energy and I’m just happy to be part of it. I felt great out there. I was running around, flying around. I feel good mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually so all of the above.”

Demski posted career best totals a year ago, pulling in 67 receptions for 1,006 yards — the first 1K season of his career — and six touchdowns. His comfortability in this offence and working with Collaros means he might be 50-50 to play in Friday’s preseason finale. Does he need game reps? No. Would he ask for them? Perhaps.

“I’ve played a lot of games in this league,” he said. “This is my ninth year playing professional football and sixth year here being in this system. I don’t want to come out and say I don’t need a lot of reps — that’s not the case. Any time a new season begins you’ve got to knock the dust off and get your reps and see your pictures and see the defensive coverages.

“I’m a vet and I approach each day like that and approach each day like I’m a starter and I do my due diligence. At the same time, it’s always good to get out there and get live reps as well.”

The Blue Bombers offence will again feature Collaros, Demski, Lawler, Schoen and Drew Wolitarsky in the receiving corps and with Oliveira in the backfield and running behind an O-line that will feature two changes, but it still dominated by vets. A year ago the attack finished first in scoring, first in net offence, first in rushing and second in passing.

“The sky’s the limit,” said Demski. “I say the same thing every year. I just know how versatile and how much of a threat all of us can be out there. We definitely have the pieces, we’ve just got to come out here and put it together which I have full confidence that we’ll do it. i’m excited for it. Obviously, we’re always trying to make it better, keep elevating and we’re going to do a good job of doing that this year.”

Take a knee, #8: O’Shea confirmed after practice Wednesday that Collaros will not play in Friday’s preseason finale — meaning his first real reps will come in the season opener against the Alouettes.

No. 2 pivot Chris Streveler did not practice on Wednesday, meaning Terry Wilson and Darren Grainger could see considerable work against Calgary this week.

Asked about the decision to rest Collaros O’Shea said: “He doesn’t need it. He feels good, looks good.

“We get together as a group and have that chat. Zach, Buck (Pierce, offensive coordinator), myself, we have those conversations and if everybody’s feeling good and sees it the same way then that’s the way we’re going to do it.

“Every year with Zach and certain guys you ask them what they think they need and if there’s a difference of opinion you discuss why there might be — fortunately there isn’t a difference of opinion on this. He feels good. He’s confidence with where he’s at, Buck sees it the same way, I see it the same way so it’s a pretty easy decision.”

Next: The Blue Bombers will hold their walk-through practice Thursday morning beginning at 11:05 a.m.