WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were back on the field Monday for the first time since they fell 26-3 to the Edmonton Eskimos last week, their first loss of the season, and with five quarterbacks throwing balls it looked at times like training camp all over.
In some ways, maybe it is, because the Bombers know they have to find ways to correct flaws in their game that Mike Reilly and the Eskimos did a very handy job of exploiting.
“It might have been a little bit of a wake-up call,” said Winnipeg quarterback Drew Willy, who was sacked five times as his offence was held to just one field goal.
“Obviously they are a good defence but we need to play better over all to give our defence a chance, because they played really well.”
And a lot. Winnipeg’s defence was on the field for more than 38 minutes, their offence just over 21 in the lopsided game that went bad early.
It isn’t encouraging that two key starters on that defence could be missing in action when the Bombers visit the B.C. Lions on Friday. Coach Mike O’Shea says defensive back Johnny Sears and lineman Jason Vega are doubtful.
He says Sears has a hamstring issue that will be evaluated later in the week while Vega has a few ailments that likely will keep him off the field.
The coach wasn’t pushing the panic button, however.
“We’ve also got guys that have been practising very, very hard behind them,” he said. “We’re set up nicely depth-wise on defence, that’s for sure.”
On Monday, the Bombers also shuffled players on their offensive line and they got their newest quarterback into the game, as Josh Portis learns Winnipeg’s offence. He was picked up last week from the Toronto Argonauts to add CFL experience to their backup pool.
“I’ve learned a lot, being in Toronto,” Portis said after practice, praising Ricky Ray as a great teacher.
“The game is different up here,” he added. “You’ve just got to pay attention to small details and the dimensions of the game, the angles of the game are a little different.”
With Mason Mills on Winnipeg’s practice roster, plus backups Robert Marve and Brian Brohm, who have been around since rookie camp, the Bombers now have five pivots.
Receiver Aaron Kelly was practising again Monday and says he feels fine after being sidelined last week with a swollen knee, but O’Shea says they will also decide whether he’s ready to return later in the week.
While the Bombers are coming off that 26-3 home loss to Edmonton, the Lions are riding high after their 41-5 thumping of the Montreal Alouettes.
This Friday also has been officially declared Geroy Simon Day in Vancouver, to honour the receiver who helped lead the Lions to two Grey Cups and added one more ring to his collection with the Saskatchewan Roughriders last year before retiring.
Simon, who spent his first two seasons with the Bombers before joining B.C., is the CFL’s all-time career leader in receiving yards with 16,352, ranks first in pass receptions with 1,029 and third in touchdown receptions with 103.
The Bombers also added two more players to their practice roster Monday, international running back Sam McGuffie and Canadian linebacker Kyle Jones.
Jones is in his sixth season in the CFL, with stints in Hamilton, B.C. and Toronto. He has a career 34 special teams tackles and seven defensive tackles.
“Not only can he play special teams and do that well for you, he can get you out of a game in a lot of different spots,” said O’Shea, Toronto’s former special team’s co-ordinator before he took over the Bombers.,
“One thing he can’t do is snap to himself, hold it and kick his own field goal. But I haven’t asked him to do that, so maybe he can.”
Thay may not be a talent he needs in Winnipeg.
Rookie kicker Liram Hajrullahu was pressed into handling punting duties for the Bombers last week as well, after Mike Renaud injured himself during practice. The Bombers didn’t suffer for the switch, with his 10 punts averaging just over 45 yards, a little better than Renaud this season.
Hajrullahu says he feels comfortable handling both but wants to get better at punting, which is more complicated.