The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will head into Hamilton for a must-win game against the Tiger-Cats on Saturday with a new defensive line that will include a raw rookie and a converted defensive tackle platooning at one end position.
With both of Winnipeg's starting defensive ends now out of the lineup with injuries -- Alex Hall is out for the season with a knee injury and Jason Vega is out for at least this week with a toe injury -- the Bombers held their final full practice of the week at Canad Inns Stadium on Thursday with Bryant Turner and Youri Yenga platooning at one end position.
Non-import Fernand Kashama continued at practice to play the other end position, where Kashama has rotated all season but has played a bigger role in recent weeks as the club has struggled with ratio issues caused by injuries elsewhere in the lineup.
Turner played defensive end in high school and college but he has only ever played as a defensive tackle in his CFL career. Yenga, meanwhile, is a raw rookie who has seen just two weeks of actual action this season and none since Week 5.
That's hardly an ideal situation for a Winnipeg team that must win in Hamilton in a game that will see the loser eliminated from playoff contention, but it's where the Bombers find themselves as they prepare to travel to Hamilton on Friday in advance of Saturday afternoon's critical contest.
Turner missed the last two games with a lower-body injury but sounded as if he were not going to be denied the chance to play in this week's critical game.
"I've been pestering at the coaches to get back on the field," said Turner, who doesn't think the shift from tackle to end will pose significant problems for him.
"It was kind of my natural position in college and high school, so I'm looking forward to getting back out there," said Turner.
The other major positional change on defence this week will see Johnny Sears take over at strong-side linebacker after Demond Washington, who had the job for just one game, was injured in practice earlier this week.
Sears, who will be replaced at cornerback in the starting lineup by Brandon Stewart, said he's looking forward to doing a lot more hitting from the linebacker position.
"I welcome it," said Sears. "I don't mind (the physical contact) at all. I've just got to be the hammer and not the nail."
Sears is the fifth SAM linebacker the Bombers have auditioned this season since cutting former SAM Clint Kent at the end of training camp and head coach Tim Burke was asked Thursday afternoon if he now regretted the decision to cut Kent.
Burke said the decision to release Kent after training camp was made by the whole coaching staff, but he said he didn't disagree with the decision at the time and it doesn't sound like he does now either.
"You make decisions and you have to live with them," said Burke. "Clint's been a part-time starter for Edmonton too."
Kent was signed by the Eskimos soon after his release by Winnipeg but he's been injured at times and has not been a regular starter with the Eskimos this season.