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June 18, 2024

“We’ve got to play three-phase football.”

Dalton Schoen latches onto a pass at practice Tuesday -- photos by Cameron Bartlett

There are no quick fixes here for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. No potion to quickly throw down like a shot and no magic wand to wave over their problems and make all the bad stuff instantly evaporate.

The club’s first 0-2 start since 2016 is rooted in many things, from a struggling offence, to a defence crushed by injuries and personnel changes to a special teams unit looking for a spark.

And sometimes all of that can be represented in a back-to-back-to-back sequence — just as Dalton Schoen offered in rewinding to a chunk in last week’s 23-17 loss to the Ottawa RedBlacks.

“It’s across the board,” said the Blue Bombers receiver. “The problem is, one guy misses his assignment here and there but it’s a different play for every single person and so then all of sudden you’re not executing as a group. Obviously we can’t have that and we’ve got to do a better job of playing complementary football — meaning if someone messes their job up we’ve got to pick him up and bail him out. That’s offensively, but also across the board. We’ve got to play three-phase football.

“Offensively we were beat up because we had a first down we should have gotten early and we didn’t (due to a dropped pass) and then we punted and gave up a 40-yard return and then the defence gives up points. It’s on all of us. It’s not on one single unit there — offensively, we’ve got to make the play. We didn’t. So now the punt unit has got to be conscious of that and go bail us out and unfortunately they didn’t. So it spirals.

“It’s being aware of those things,” added Schoen, “and stepping up in that moment.”

Again, it’s not complicated at all. It seldom is in football. This isn’t a talent issue for the Blue Bombers. It is, simply put, an execution issue. And so when offensive coordinator Buck Pierce was asked after practice Tuesday if the offence needed to get “more creative or back to basics” his response was straightforward.

Offensive coordinator Buck Pierce

“It’s work. You just work,” he said. “I told the guys, ‘I don’t know how to do a lot of things in life, but I know how to put my head down and work.’ We’ve got a lot of workers in our room. Our guys are excited to get on to the next week, learn from what we’ve done and go out there and execute again.

“You need everybody pushing in the same direction and when 12 guys are on the same page and when we’re communicating things look pretty good. If there’s a little bit of a lack of focus at times in the drive it will get you off the field. We need to start faster and that’s something we talked about this week.”

Later, head coach Mike O’Shea — during a 13-minute session with the media — was asked if there was a quality or mindset his team needs more of right now.

“No. I like our guys,” he said. “Two outcomes doesn’t change how I feel about these guys and where I think we’re going to.”

Asked if they need a spark, O’Shea gobbled up the question and riffed this way:

“Ah, we’ll switch up the lines, eh? We’ll move the fourth liner up to centre and put him between this guy. Let’s do it.

“Yeah,” he added with a grin, “it doesn’t work that way.

“Every week when you review everything you look at what you’ve done well, at what you haven’t done well. Everybody — players, coaches, everybody down in that area — tries to become a little bit better from that and learn from it and also be better at something else they’re already good at.

“… It’s not that you’re a step behind and you’re always trying to stay a step ahead. It’s, ‘What do we need right now.’

FYI: RB Brady Oliveira and DB Deatrick Nichols did not practice on Tuesday, but WR Dalton Schoen and LB Kyrie Wilson were back at work. Asked specifically about Oliveira, O’Shea said: “He’s working extremely hard and making a lot of progress so we’ll see where that lands him.”… RB Chris Smith has been busy since his return, getting more work with Oliveira out and sharing some kick return duties with Myron Mitchell. O’Shea on Smith’s readiness and possible return to the lineup: “I still think there’s a difference between in shape enough to practice and then what goes on in a game but I like what I’ve seen so far. He certainly seems like he stayed on top of his stuff, too, which is important.”… Defensive tackle Devin Adams, who handled punting chores during his days at Peru State and Delaware State, took a few reps kicking the ball at practice Tuesday. He’s no Jamieson Sheahan or Bob Cameron, but he did launch a few, which drew hoots and hollers from his teammates. “There’s not much that guy can’t do,” said O’Shea. “In fact, Id have to think really hard about what we wouldn’t ask him to do on a football field. He’s been not only good, he’s been fun to have around. He’s fired up on a daily basis.”