Their regular season record on Saturday was the exact same as it was on Friday -- a CFL-worst 3-10 -- but there was a renewed enthusiasm to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers team that took the practice field at Canad Inns Stadium Saturday morning.
Maybe it was the weather, which finally turned warm and sunny on Saturday after a week of bitterly cold and blustery practices.
Or maybe it was the urging of their head coach on Friday to look within themselves and try to recapture the enthusiasm that prompted them all to be football players in the first place.
But whatever it was, there was laughing, joking, play fighting and even some impromptu wrestling on the field as the Bombers held their last full practice this week before they travel to Montreal, where they will face the East Division-leading Alouettes Monday afternoon.
Mission accomplished, said head coach Tim Burke.
"Our enthusiasm has actually been good all week, it’s just that when it’s cold they’re enthusiastic in a lower key manner, I guess," Burke laughed.
"I want the pressure to be off of them. I think they will play better if we don't have that pressure on us all the time."
On the contrary, Burke is hopeful that it will be his defence that will be putting pressure on Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo on Monday.
For all the trials and tribulations of this Bombers team this season, one of the few things that has been working well has been the pass rush the club has gotten from an all-import defensive line.
The Bombers led the entire CFL in sacks with 31 heading into this weekend and Burke says he’s been very pleased with his front-four’s performance.
"I'm pretty happy with the D-line and where they’re at," Burke said. "The reason we decided to have all imports on the defensive line is we wanted to generate a good pass rush. And it’s really hard to find Canadian D-linemen like (retired Bombers tackle) Doug Brown who can generate a pass rush. There just haven't been that many of them lately."
The trade-off with the decision to go with an all-American defensive line was the Bombers had to start a Canadian in Henoc Muamba this season at middle linebacker -- a position more commonly the domain of Americans in the CFL.
But that hasn’t been much a trade-off at all lately as Muamba’s play has blossomed, culminating a couple weeks ago with a player of the week selection. "Thankfully, Henoc’s starting to play really well at (middle linebacker)," agreed Burke. "I mean, he’s playing like an import."
There is still room for improvement, however, on the defensive line. While they’re getting an impressive pass rush, they’ve also been yielding an average of 119 rushing yards per game.
That’s fifth in the CFL and tackle Bryant Turner is the first to admit that they have to get stingier against the run if the Bombers are going to beat a team like Montreal, who even without injured marquee tailback Brandon Whittaker can still hurt a team on the ground.
"We can do a lot better on the run," said Turner. "And I think we will do better."
FIELDNOTES -- Defensive end Jason Vega did not practice on Saturday so that he could attend a funeral. Burke said Vega will still travel to Montreal with the team on Sunday and start on Monday against the Als...Injured QB Buck Pierce will also make the trip to Montreal but will not dress on Monday. Burke said Pierce will assist offensive coordinator Gary Crowton on gameday...The only changes to the Bombers 46-man roster this week will see Pierce come off and receiver Isaac Anderson go on. Anderson will start at slotback on Monday in place of Clarence Denmark, who returned home this week following the death of his father.