June 22, 2024

Upon Further Review | B.C. 26 WPG 24

Blue Bombers vs. Lions -- photos by Cameron Bartlett

Let’s open with this, because it’s important in the wake of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 0-3 start: there remains an unyielding resolve inside the clubhouse.

Critics will undoubtedly call that blind faith, but with so many chapters yet to be written and a roster which remains loaded with future hall of famers and emerging talents it would be dangerous to begin penning the obituary on a squad which has four Grey Cup appearances and two championships in the last four seasons.

Clearly that’s a tougher sell after Friday’s 26-24 loss to the B.C. Lions and the early hole into which the club has tumbled down, a fact which is only further compounded by the growing list of injured which now includes receivers Dalton Schoen — seen on crutches after the game — and Keric Wheatfall, who had to be helped to the sidelines.

Yet even through that is the sense of resolve, albeit with a new catch phrase now commonly heard in the room:

“It’s going to be different this year.”

That declaration is by no means a surrender but instead part of a realization that this team can no longer simply trot out the same consistent lineup as it had dating back to 2019 and win games while potentially not at their best because of their talent and experience.

It was going to be different this year because of the changes to the roster over the winter that saw familiar faces like Jackson Jeffcoat, Jermarcus Hardrick, Rasheed Bailey, Geoff Gray, Demerio Houston, Ricky Walker and Janarion Grant leave. And now with the six-game injured list overflowing — Wheatfall and Schoen will likely soon join a crew that already includes defensive linemen Celestin Haba, Miles Fox, Cam Lawson and TyJuan Garbutt, defensive backs Jamal Parker, Jake Kelly and Noah Hallett along with receiver Kenny Lawler — it means the Blue Bombers are going deeper and deeper into their roster for help.

“It’s unfortunate. Things happen. We just said it right now — we’re going to need some young guys to step up,” said quarterback Chris Streveler, who scored all three of the Blue Bombers touchdowns Friday night. “We’re going to need some young guys to step up this week and it’s going to be our job as veterans to bring them along and make sure they’re locked in to the level to win a football game.

“It’s going to take 110 percent effort from everybody to get these wins and find a way to give more and do a little bit more and we’re all looking at plays tonight that we didn’t make — myself included.”

The Blue Bombers are 0-3 to start a season for the first time since 2012 but amidst the explosive plays surrendered on defence — B.C. pivot Vernon Adams, Jr. and receiver Alexander Hollins were simply dominant — there were some signs to clutch onto for the team and its faithful.

Streveler did his thing with the three scores and the instant energy he brings; Zac Collaros, Nic Demski and Drew Wolitarsky had their best performances while working with a depleted receiving corps and, perhaps most importantly, Brady Oliveira returned and cranked out 64 yards on nine carries in an appealing small sample taste of his 2023 self.

“Not the result that we wanted. We’ve just got to come back in here (Saturday), look at the film and stay together right now,” said Oliveira. “I have a lot of faith and belief in this group. I love every single person in this locker room and I know we can get it done. We’ve just got to find a way.

“It’s going to be different this year, obviously, but I’ve got a lot of faith in this group. We’re going to get it together. We’re right there. Super close.”

Again — ‘It’s going to be different this year’ — could be the mantra for 2024.

ICYMI, Friday’s game recap is here and for more we give you this week’s edition of UPON FURTHER REVIEW

THREE NUMBERS THAT STOOD OUT… after a deeper dive into the statistical package, which can be found here:

1 The Blue Bombers were slow to start again Friday, surrendering a TD and two Sean Whyte field goals on B.C.’s first three possessions and trailing 10-7 after the first quarter and 13-7 at the half. Through three games this year Winnipeg has trailed after one and at the half in each contest, being out-scored 27-10 in first quarters and 43-22 at the half combined.

That’s significant for so many reasons, but here’s the hammer: since 2016 Winnipeg is a remarkable 55-8 (.873 winning percentage) when leading after the first quarter.

2 The Blue Bombers surrendered 500 net yards offence to the Lions on Friday, including 398 yards through the air and two Adams, Jr.-to-Hollins scores. That’s the highest total in five seasons, dating back to the defence surrendering 511 net yards in a 39-16 loss to the Calgary Stampeders in August of 2018.

3 Of the 398 the Lions got through the air, 218 of that came on five plays — including 71 and 63-yard gains by Hollins.

MORE ON THE ‘D’ STRUGGLES… from Brandon Alexander, the senior statesman of a position group that featured CFL rookies Terrell Bonds and Marquise Bridges on one side, first-year starter Tyrell Ford and Evan Holm on the other, with Redha Kramdi at dime.

“We couldn’t get off (the field) on second downs and we didn’t make the necessary plays we needed to or were fast enough on our reads to make the plays we needed to make,” said Alexander. “I had some of those myself. We’re just not detailed enough on the field right now to be able to win close football games. That’s what I feel right now. That’s what I think and what I saw.

“Most of the things we need to adjust to were in game, situational stuff — where they put people, how they line up people and what adjustments we make in that time. There’s nothing a coach can do in that moment, it’s something a player has to do in that moment because they’re on the field adjustments. When you see something, you’re supposed to be able to adjust on the fly. That’s what defences do — we react. And that didn’t happen today.”

AS MENTIONED ABOVE… if you’re looking for silver linings for the Blue Bombers, a critical one was the return of Oliveira and how, coupled with Streveler, the offence was able to run the football with 102 yards along the ground.

“That’s our DNA — playing physical football from start to finish,” said Oliveira. “We’ve got the guys in this locker room to do that and get the job done. I think you saw it today — we were more like ourselves.

“Obviously I have to watch the tape, but the guys up front did a great job. There were moving the downs and I was proud of them. They did a really good job. There were just a few too many mistakes and some big opportunities that we missed on but we’ll come back, fix up our mistakes and we’ll be good. We’ve just got to stay together right now.”

“Everything starts up front, so when we can dominate up front and establish the line of scrimmage that’s huge for any team,” added Streveler. “We’ve got to find a way to get more production on first down in the first half. Just too many two and outs and it felt like our defence was on the field a lot. When we stay on the field and get a rhythm on offence and spread the ball around it’s effective. When we go two and out it just puts so much pressure on our defence.”

STREVELER, BY THE WAY… was running pass routes at the end of the game following the losses of Schoen and Wheatfall to injury.

“The more you can do — I said this from Day 1 when I came here: I just want to help this team win,” said Streveler. “Obviously that’s not what we want to be doing, putting me at receiver at the end of the game, but I am thankful that I know the plays to the point where I can at least go out there and fill a spot.”

Demski and Wolitarsky stepped up in the loss, while Ontarria Wilson had three catches for 27 yards. Kevens Clercius also got work in the wake of the injuries and the team may have to turn to those on the practice roster if they choose not to airlift in more help.

Receivers on the practice squad include Americans Myron Mitchell and Josh Johnson and Canadian Jeremy Murphy.

“It definitely hits you a little harder now after the game’s done,” said Demski of the injuries piling up amongst his position group. “You can’t let it bother you too much after the game but I guess they’ve got to evaluate (the injuries), see what happens, see the diagnosis is, and we’ll go from that. Hopefully it’s nothing too crazy.

“Football is rough sport. It’s a ‘next-man-up’ type of game. We’ve got some depth here, some young depth, so they’d better get ready.”