June 3, 2024

Need To Know | Week 1

Blue Bombers defensive coordinator Jordan Younger -- photos by Cameron Bartlett

Outside the doors to Bomberland it might seem an absolutely impossible task. An unenviable one, too.

Consider this: the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defence ranked first in 17 of the 32 defensive statistical categories the Canadian Football League tracked last season, including the most important/coolest ones like points allowed (20.9), touchdowns allowed (35), net offence (298.8), completion percentage against (59.7) and passing yards against (229.4).

Yet, one of the most-intriguing developments of the offseason — and most certainly a storyline to track when the CFL season opens Thursday night with the Montreal Alouettes in town for a Grey Cup rematch — was the decision to promote Jordan Younger from defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator, with veteran Richie Hall then taking on the role of defensive assistant.

Never mind this going completely against the timeless notion of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, because Mike O’Shea’s move to change Younger’s title rather than lose him to a CFL rival wasn’t solely about that. This is about rethinking everything on the defensive side of the ball. As a result, what it might now look like and how it evolves will be a fascinating sidebar to the Blue Bombers ’24 season.

Jordan Younger

And Younger provided a hint of all that after practice Monday in his first press availability when asked what he wants the identity of this defence to be.

“Versatile. We already got a tough group of guys and veteran leadership. Those things I expect to remain status quo,” he said. “Where we’ve got to grow is offences have become more versatile and in order to match that defences have to become more versatile also.”

That was part of Younger’s deep dive this winter — to flip the board and start examining more fully how offences attack defences in this league. And by studying the opposite side of the ball, he hopes to be able to counterstrike more effectively not just game to game, but quarter to quarter, series to series and even one down to the next.

So, how will a Jordan Younger defence look differently than those under Hall’s leadership over the last few years?

“That’s to be determined,” he said. “Every week there will be a new challenge and one of the things that’s important to me is versatility. Across the CFL a lot of the success depends on style matchups, so being able to change styles when necessary and being able to recognize it in real time is one of the challenges, one of the things we’re looking forward to doing.

“I’d like us to maintain our high level of play. We have standards here that we’ve established over the last couple of seasons and I’d like to maintain that. With that being said, the dynamics of it haven’t changed much. I still take a lot of insight from Richie Hall. He’s an incredibly valuable asset to me  personally and to our staff.”

The respect Younger has for Hall runs deep and was evident from the moment his promotion to DC was made official in January, as is his curiosity — critical to any coordinator. That story is here:

“It means a lot to follow good leaders.”

Younger reiterated again on Monday how vital Hall will be in making this work going forward.

“Again, he’s a tremendous asset. There’s so much more to coordinating than just Xs and Os,” he said, “It’s the things that make the meetings run smoothly, the timing, how much time you have to give to each coaching point – just knowing those things. It’s, ‘Hey, how long have I got for this?’ and being able to hear that from him is very reassuring and reaffirming.”

Brandon Alexander

The Blue Bombers have already showcased a variety of defensive looks in camp, even with Adam Bighill out and Brandon Alexander first practising on Monday. Asked to describe the ‘new’ defence and what might make it fun to be a part of, Alexander offered this:

“We definitely still do a lot of the same things. It’s just it highlights a lot of people’s attributes and what they do best. With guys playing certain positions and being able to add some new things in there it plays well to our strengths and what we do.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that can play a lot of ball and play a lot of different places. Being versatile has been our ‘M.O.’ for a long time and being able to plug and play a lot of different spots. We’ve got guys who can play field corner all the way to boundary corner so the fact that the defence is allowing us to do a lot of different things is pretty good.

“It’s highlighting everybody’s attributes.”

Ask around the CFL and many will say Younger is a rising star in the coaching ranks, a man who has ‘future head coach’ stamped all over him. For now, however, he said he’s enjoying diving into the strategy part of being a coordinator. As for how the Younger era as defensive boss might have begun — a speech to the troops, for example — he just shrugged at the question with the reminder he’s been around this group for a few years now.

He also offered this, when it was suggested the promotion helped keep him in Winnipeg rather than leave for another organization:

“I love being a Winnipeg Blue Bomber. I’m really close with Mike O’Shea. I would have been very happy staying here anyway. Moving up that coaching ladder is the optimal goal, but I’ve been around for a little while and Winnipeg is a special place.

“There’s some things you can’t put a dollar sign on and being in Winnipeg is one of them.”

The Blue Bombers were back on the field Monday for the first official practice of the season since the roster cut-down on the weekend. Here are some other notes and quotes in the first instalment of the season of NEED TO KNOW…

Brady Oliveira

FWIW: In addition to Alexander being on the field for the first time so, too, was running back Brady Oliveira, who said he had skipped training camp practices after a ‘minor little injury’ in his offseason training.

“I’ve got to really just thank Al Couture (Blue Bombers head athletic therapist) and the whole training staff here,” Oliveira said. “It’s never easy going through an injury, and mentally it’s hard. You never know if you’re going to make it on time or not, with the timeline. And I didn’t really know what to expect. And I really just let go and just really trusted Al and the medical staff here. They did their thing and we’re back.

“I’m a competitor. You want to compete. I want to work on my craft every single day and continue to strive to be the best running back I can be and the best teammate that I can be. And I know when I’m out here I’m a really good teammate when I’m in that huddle. Obviously you still lead by example when you’re on the sidelines, but it’s definitely a little bit harder, I think. I need to be in that huddle to actually lead by example. So to be back out there today felt great. I’m just ready to go.”

Today’s injury report:

FYI: Not confirmed until the depth chart comes out on Wednesday, but Eric Lofton was at right tackle for the Blue Bombers with Liam Dobson at left guard… Myron Mitchell handled some of the punt return chores while Ontaria Wilson took a lot of reps with the starters at receiver… Terrell Bonds was also at cornerback opposite Tyrell Ford.