June 9, 2024

Need to Know | Week 2

Adam Bighill was back at his post at Sunday's practice -- photos by Sam Calvert

It was a tough opening act for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, from dropping their season opener in front of another 30K-plus home crowd in such an uncharacteristic fashion, to seeing star kicker Sergio Castillo struggle, to losing Kenny Lawler to injury.

On Sunday that run of negative vibes was halted — temporarily, at least — with future hall of fame linebacker Adam Bighill back at this post in the middle of the Blue Bombers defence at practice after he missed the opener while being placed on the six-game injured list earlier in training camp.

“I expect to play this week,” Bighill said afterward. “Just getting a feel for everything out here today and make sure that everything felt good. It felt good.”

The Blue Bombers defence was hardly to blame in the 27-12 season-opening loss to the Montreal Alouettes last week, but did have a part in what unfolded. The Als held the ball for just under 33 minutes and had 324 yards net offence, hurting Winnipeg’s D with two big plays: a 76-yard Cody Fajardo-to-Tyson Philpot score and a 47-yard connection to Tyler Snead. At the same time, they limited Montreal to just 3.2 yards per carry and 73 yards rushing on 23 carries while also getting an interception from Brian Cole.

Adam Bighill

“You already know what it is– you can’t really control too much except help the guys on the sidelines and be as prepared as we can for the next series and halftime,” said Bighill of not playing last Thursday. “I was just trying to rally around them and keep things as positive as I can. They played some good football. We know we can be better. We gave up some explosives we didn’t have to, we had some penalties we didn’t need to have. Those are the things that lose games and that’s obviously what happened.

“It’s all things we know how to clean up and we’ve just got to do it, we can’t talk about it, you got to do it. We know how to win and we’ve got to take care of those details to do it.”

Getting Bighill back for this week’s game against the Ottawa RedBlacks in the capital will be a boost. As head coach Mike O’Shea said after practice: “It’s nice to have him back out practising and he looks good. He’s so smart, he has so much experience it certainly helps everyone else around him.”

Bighill sustained an injury during training camp and was officially placed on the six-game injured list back on May 17th, meaning he had to miss at least one contest before the team could add him back to the lineup.

“Not being out there with my guys is never fun,” said Bighill We get to play a game for a living so coming out here and being with the guys is what you want.

“(Getting back this week) is making sure you do everything you can to prepare the right way and not rush anything. I would’ve liked to have been out there last week but when you’re on six-game you’re not allowed to so it was as soon as possible.

“I’m coming back at exactly the right time. It’s what our medical team believes, it’s what I believe and at the end of the day you follow the direction of the people that take good care of us and Al (Couture, head athletic therapist) is the man for that.”

CHIP SHOTS: The story of the new micro-chips in footballs and how they were affecting the work of the placekickers became an issue Thursday night after Sergio Castillo — a 90 percent kicker — missed two field goals and a convert in the loss to Montreal. David Cote of the Als hit field goals from 19 and 22 yards and was two of three on converts.

It prompted Saskatchewan Roughriders kicker and CFLPA vice-president Brett Lauther to take to social media that night, with public support also coming from Lewis Ward of Ottawa. On Friday the league responded by issuing a change that will give the kickers the right to use either a regular ball or the ball with the micro-chip in it going forward.

“It was a collective. I’m just glad it’s over with and we move on again to Ottawa,” said Castillo after practice on Sunday. “I’m just glad they heard our voice. At the end of the day the league wants a great product out there. When we work with the league together like that, good things can be done.”

Castillo said the new balls were causing issues from the first day of training camp and the kickers around the league were all struggling. His misses against Montreal were from 38 and 40 yards and it’s worth noting that last year he was a perfect 31-for-31 on field goals inside the 40-yard line.

Interestingly, in Friday’s game after the CFL issued its statement Hamilton’s Marc Liegghio went 3-for-4, missing from 47, and hit both converts while Rene Paredes was 6-for-6 in field goals and hit both converts. On Saturday, Lauther didn’t attempt a field goal but was connected on all four converts while Edmonton’s Boris Bede was 2-of-3, missing from 48, and hit both converts.

“I didn’t know where to aim,” said Castillo of the issues the chip was causing. “If I went 50-60 percent I’d think that was a good day throughout camp I’d think that was a good day — which is scary,” he said. “It was a major concern for all nine starters. We’re glad it got resolved and we’re moving on. There’s comfort there.

“We were all struggling with the same issue. We were constantly talking and it was just, ‘Hey, is this just me?’ We all kept getting the same feedback from each other… we were in constant communication every day. It was, ‘Hey, how was your day with the balls? How are you breaking them in, too?’ We were trying to find a solution if this is what we’ve got to deal with. It was, ‘What do I have to do differently? Different methods. At the end of the day when it’s not just you and you hear the other guys that they’re struggling with then it’s we do have an issue here. If it was just one guy or two guys then it’d be, ‘Shoot, maybe we suck.’ But when all nine guys struggled that’s when we had a common issue.”

FYI: DB Redha Kramdi and RB Brady Oliveira did not practice on Sunday. Said head coach Mike O’Shea of Oliveira: “He needs another rest. We’ll see. He’s a veteran, he went in there and he basically had a clean sheet. It’s probably going to be one of those processes where we ease him back into it. We’ll see on Day 3 (Tuesday). I feel pretty good about (him playing) right now. When you miss training camp I think there is a bit of that. The fitness level needs to be looked after. You’ve got to weigh how fatigued they are and how much more work you need them to do.”

NEXT MAN UP: WR Kenny Lawler was not at practice on Sunday with both Josh Johnson and Keric Wheatfall taking reps with the starters in his spot.

O’Shea wouldn’t confirm media reports the veteran receiver suffered a fractured arm in the loss, indicating his status would be confirmed later in the week and adding, “He’s going to need more than a week, for sure.” As to who might step into Lawler’s spot, he said “The guys we’ve kept, we’ve got good options.”

Added Zach Collaros: “He’s a special player, a talented player and one of the best I’ve ever played with. You can’t really fill the void that is Kenny, but we’ve got some good young players out here, guys that are hungry for an opportunity. We’ll do our due diligence all week, the coaches will get them ready and our room will get them ready, too, for whoever is going to be out there and I expect them all to play at a high level given the opportunity.”

NEW BLUE BLOOD: The Blue Bombers added to their depth on Sunday with the additions of Canadian fullback/linebacker Bailey Feltmate and American linebacker Tony Jones — both have CFL experience with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Edmonton Elks, respectiveluy.

Feltmate (6-2, 240, Acadia; born: January 22, 1998, in Moncton, NB) was a second round selection, 17th overall, by the Tiger-Cats in the 2020 CFL Draft and spent the past three with the club while recording 35 special teams tackles and four defensive tackles in 43 games.

Jones (6-2, 235, Texas Tech; born: August 5, 1995, in Casselberry, FL) was released by the Elks at the end of training camp and arrives with 20 games of CFL experience, including five starts last season. He recorded 41 defensive tackles, 11 special teams tackles, one forced fumble and one sack in 2023.

Jones had a four-year collegiate career split between Butler Community College (NJCAA) (2015-2016) and Texas Tech (2017-2018). He then turned pro in the Indoor Football League (IFL) for the Iowa Barnstormers (2021), ending the season on the First team All-IFL, All-Rookie Team, and was awarded Defensive Rookie of the Year.

STUFF THAT MATTERS: Two thumbs way up for Winnipeg Sun football scribe Ted Wyman, who is home now after an extended stay in the hospital. He’s a battler and has a spectacular spirit to attack his road ahead. His many friends in the media and from those within the organization are rooting for him.

Been crazy since last time I posted. Spent 16 days in hospital after getting diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Have had radiation and chemo and I’m home now to continue to fight. Lots of people asking so I thought I’d give a little update. Positive thoughts over here. Peace.

— Ted Wyman (@Ted_Wyman) June 8, 2024