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June 17, 2024

Need to Know | Week 3

Zach Collaros at Blue Bombers practice on Monday -- photos by Cameron Bartlett

It should come as no surprise that as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers returned to work Monday in the wake of their surprising, disappointing — perhaps shocking — 0-2 start to the 2024 Canadian Football League season there were no bold declarations or proclamations issued from within Bomberland.

No one pointed fingers — other than at themselves — and there were no ultimatums or gauntlets dropped. And so the solution, it would seem, comes in simply returning to the norm by getting their hands dirty again to fix what ails them.

Now, that will hardly generate headlines across the CFL map or suddenly be trending on X, but it’s what they’ve done around here over the last seven seasons of double-digits wins and four straight Grey Cup appearances.

“We’re just going along like every other week. This is a regular week for us,” said head coach Mike O’Shea near the end of a media session stacked with ‘what’s wrong with the Bombers?’ themed questions. “We certainly don’t want guys gripping their sticks too tight, searching for things they don’t need to search for.

“In here we feel good; we know what’s going on.”

Indeed, what’s going on with the Blue Bombers isn’t that complicated. The offence, minus Brady Oliveira and Kenny Lawler in the last game, is struggling with just 29 points scored in two games. The defence was kicked in the nether regions by injuries in the loss in Ottawa. The special teams have been meh. Put that all together and you get the first 0-2 start in these parts since 2016.

Zach Collaros

“Obviously we’re nowhere near where we need to be,” said quarterback Zach Collaros. “There are many things to clean up, as there usually is at this point of the season. At times we’ve been able to overcome the lack of details and things like that in the past.

“As life goes on, as the season goes and this league grows it’s harder and harder to make the same mistakes, lack the same attention to detail — all those things — and continue to win and execute. The focus, as always, needs to be at an all-time high. The urgency, whatever word you want to use… we have to better.”

Collaros used one sequence in the Ottawa loss as an example of the execution issues.

“I think back to there was a play in the game where a guy went the wrong way and I had to dirt the ball (throw it away) and the next play I threw an interception and made it worse,” he said. “Flipped the field. So, again, as a leader, as a quarterback, I can’t compound it and make it worse.”

Again, though, if anyone was looking for any indication this outfit has its collective fist balled up and ready to smash down on the panic button, it wasn’t evident on Monday. Asked how the offence balances being critical of itself in the 0-2 start while knowing there is still a lot of highway left, Collaros offered this:

“I’m always very critical of myself. You’ve just got to fix it. That’s a tough one to answer. I don’t think anyone is panicking. All you can do is your best, give your best every single day. As Osh always says to us, ‘All the motivation you need is sitting right next to you.’ So, if you’re doing what you need to do every single day, we like our chances.”

More from the Blue Bombers first practice day leading up to Friday’s home date with the Als in our Week 3 edition of Need to Know

SPUTTERING ‘O’: We pointed this out in the most recent Upon Further Review but it will continue to be an issue until the offence finds some early traction in a game — through the first two weeks the attack has been out-scored 17-3 in first quarters and has six punts and one field goal in seven possessions.

How do you fix that?

“It’s one play at a time — as boring as that sounds. Run or pass, it’s being efficient, staying ahead of the chains and stacking those plays together,” said Collaros. “The more you’re on the field the more plays you can run, the better chance you have of scoring obviously and help the defence so they can stay a little bit more fresh. LIke I said after the game last week, those guys out there — we had four D-linemen play the entire game which is an incredible feat. We have to do a better job of helping those guys out.

“It’s important that we continue to believe in what we’re doing, which we do, and get better at what we do and those wins will pile up. Obviously I firmly believe that.”

Brady Oliveira

FYI: RB Brady Oliveira, WR Dalton Schoen, LB Kyrie Wilson and DB Deatrick Nichols did not practice on Monday. Oliveira did some light running before the session; Schoen was resting on Day 1 of the practice week while Sergio Castillo handled the punting chores for Jamieson Sheahan… On the weekend the club re-signed DE Ali Fayad and RB/KR Chris Smith, both of whom were dinged in training camp. O’Shea on the defence losing three players in the Ottawa game due to injury in Nichols, and DL Celestin Haba and Miles Fox, both now on the six-game injured list: “It was unusual, sure. I think I’d have to look really hard to find another game like that — I’m sure it happened, I just don’t remember when. I also think that we were right there at the end with an opportunity and then another opportunity (to win it).”

TIMING IS EVERYTHING: Smith and Myron Mitchell were handling some of the return chores on Monday. If you recall, Smith had a 109-yard punt return touchdown in the preseason, but was also injured in that game and released. He’s healthy now and back, but O’Shea won’t say publicly if they are contemplating a change with the return game.

Chris Smith

“I’m ready for anything. I just have to come here prepared each and every day,” said Smith. “I take every rep serious and try to be ready for the moment because you never know when that chance is going to come. Every rep is a game rep and you have to treat it like that.”

Smith told a funny story about his last preseason game to reporters on Monday.

“All week I kept saying if I get the opportunity, I’m going to make something happen,” he said. “I prayed every single day that when I get the chance the Lord would bless me with it.

“I told my wife to sit right up here in the stands; ‘I’m going to score today and I want you to be sitting right there (in the south end zone).’ And when I scored you could see in the video I was looking up in the stands and I couldn’t find her. I was like, ‘Where’s this lady at?’ She was at the concession stand, but she recorded the whole thing. You should hear her voice, it’s amazing. She almost missed it.”