Tait’s Take is presented by Anderson’s Hitch ‘N Post
June 7, 2016
It’s one of those philosophical ‘If-a-tree-falls-in-the-forest’ questions that often gets tossed out at this time of year across the Canadian Football League.
If a team wins one or both – or loses one or both – of its preseason games, does it really matter? Is a 2-0 record in dress rehearsals a ticket to the playoffs? Or, conversely, does an 0-2 mark mean the whole year will be a write off?
There is no black and white answer, of course. And it’s why these questions are framed as ‘thought experiments’ and debated in philosophy classrooms and watering holes wherever sports fans gather.
There’s also this straight take as it pertains to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and their first preseason game against the Montreal Alouettes Wednesday night at Investors Group Field:
Winning might not matter in the grand scheme of things, but it sure as heck couldn’t hurt, either. It’s not just about building a winning culture, it’s about providing some hope to a fan base that has been more than patient, especially over the past few seasons. Consider this: The Bombers are just 7-20 at home over the past three years and have had just one winning record at home – 5-4 in 2011 – dating back seven years.
More math to hammer this home: over the last seven years, the Bombers are 24-39 at home, for a winning percentage of just .381. Not to get all nostalgic, but from 1980 through 1986 the Bombers were 113-34 for a winning percentage of .769.
So while there might not be any concrete investment in winning a preseason game, it would be a welcome change around these parts.
“There’s always a value in stepping on the field and winning,” said defensive end Jamaal Westerman. “Winning isn’t the kind of thing that you just happen to do. Winning is hard. It’s important for everybody just to try and win this play, this series.
“I know it’s a preseason game and you may not play as much as you would normally or the other team might not run what they would normally run, but you want to see everybody who steps on the field to play win their battles from the guy who goes out there first to the guy that is out there last.”
The preseason offers a different dynamic within the team element as well. Individuals need to pop off the page within the team concept and that can be difficult when reps are limited and the personnel is constantly changing. All these players, veterans and rookies alike, know that they are constantly being studied, on and off the field.
“For me, I think any game is a big deal,” said receiver Darvin Adams. “We all come out with the intention of winning and showing people what we can do. This isn’t a game you just look past. It’s one you have to get very prepared for to show all the coaches what you can do, but for all the guys.
“Coach O’Shea always tells us not to worry about the outside and keep focused on what we’ve got going on in-house as a family. We’ve been putting our nose in the books and out here on this field and trying to get ready for the season.”
Bombers coach Mike O’Shea has said more than once this week he wants his team to try and win the preseason games. Asked Tuesday about balancing the desire to win versus needing to evaluate personnel and building for the regular season opener, he offered up this:
“Evaluation and finding the right players is very important. But it doesn’t mean it has to be exclusive of winning. There are a lot of good things that come out of winning. When you get in that room after and you’re watching the film, it’s far easier to correct mistakes after a win than it is after a loss. There’s something about confidence and guys believing in each other that’s very important. I wouldn’t say you are sacrificing one for the other.”
The Quarterbacks. It’s Always About the Quarterbacks
Drew Willy will start for the Bombers, Kevin Glenn for the Alouettes. Mike O’Shea said all four Bomber QB’s will get snaps, but the depth chart behind Willy is less of a mystery than it is in Montreal behind Glenn. In fact, get this: Montreal has eight QB’s listed on its depth chart.
The Als list Rakeem Cato at No. 2, but are also said to be shopping him. There is the Canadian, Brandon Bridge, along with Tajh Boyd, who had a stint here last season, and former Oregon star Vernon Adams. There are a lot of names here, but is there another Anthony Calvillo or, for you old-schoolers, another Sonny Wade or Sam Etcheverry?
Meet The New Guys
It’s preseason, so it might be that free agent additions Andrew Harris, Ryan Smith, Weston Dressler, Euclid Cummings, Keith Shologan and Justin Medlock mostly make cameo appearances and aren’t on the field long. Don’t expect new offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice to flash too much with his attack – preseason game plans are traditionally vanilla – or for defensive coordinator Richie Hall to unleash the hounds with a blitz-happy approach.
But even if the snaps of the new guys are limited, and productive or not, the offseason haul does have fans buzzing.
The New Look Blue Offence
Even if it’s a teeny-tiny playbook, Bomber fans will be interested to see how comfortable Willy operates behind the wheel of LaPolice’s new attack. Ditto for Matt Nichols, Dominique Davis and Bryan Bennett. The new offence figures to feature a whole lot more looks and will keep Harris busy out of the backfield both as a ball carrier and receiver. Even just a small sampling of that kind of dynamic offence might be enough to wet some appetites in these parts.
THREE BOMBERS TO WATCH
#14 Quincy McDuffie, WR/KR: The departure of Troy Stoudermire means the kick-return gig is wide open. McDuffie, along with Justin Veltung and Carlos Anderson, are the main candidates.
#18 Bryan Bennett, QB: Slam-dunk that Willy is the starter and Nichols will be the first out of the bullpen. But who earns the third-string job between Bennett and Davis isn’t something to just wave off as inconsequential. Consider this: last season there were 28 different starting quarterbacks in the nine-team CFL, including five in Winnipeg: Willy, Nichols, Davis and the dearly departed Brian Brohm and Robert Marve.
#49 Shayon Green, DE: The Bombers had some intriguing names on their depth chart at the defensive end spot opposite Jamaal Westerman, including former Alabama starter Adrian Hubbard and Emmanuel Dieke of Georgia Tech. But both pulled up lame during camp with injuries and Green, simply by grinding it out, has taken most of the reps. Does that advantage carry over into the game?
#53 Patrick Neufeld, RT: Most folks pay little attention to what happens along the offensive line, and especially so during a preseason game. The story with Neufeld isn’t about his skillset; it’s whether he can survive the pounding in the trenches and stay healthy. If he does, it gives the Bombers more options with their second import offensive lineman opposite Stanley Bryant, allowing them to look at both guards or tackles. If Neufeld is injured, it likely means the second import will be at tackle, as the Canadian talent are either centres or guards.
Not dressing for the Bombers are: LB Kyle Knox, CB Johnny Adams, LB Sam Hurl, LB Shayne Gauthier, DB Johnny Patrick, DE Louie Richardson, DE Derrell Johnson, DE Sam Scott, WR Gerrard Sheppard, SB Alex Vitt, WR Jace Davis.