CALGARY -- Winnipeg Blue Bombers linebacker Graig Newman was taken to a Calgary hospital Saturday night with what appeared to be a serious leg injury but Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea had no further details following the game on Newman’s condition, other than that he is one tough customer.
"He went to the hospital. Leg injury -- he was in a bit of pain. But he was very calm though, just said, ‘Hey, this hurts,’" said O'Shea. "He’s a tough guy. We’ll see -- I won’t get a report until (Sunday) sometime."
Newman sustained the injury in the third quarter of Winnipeg’s 23-20 pre-season loss to the Calgary Stampeders at McMahon Stadium Saturday night.
Television replays showed the player's leg bend at a sickening angle and the loss of Newman for an extended period would be a serious blow to the Bombers, who were counting on him to play a big role this season in defensive coordinator Gary Etcheverry’s hybrid defence and also to provide some much needed non-import talent on a team sorely lacking on it.
Newman, who spent the last two seasons in Saskatchewan, was signed by the Bombers when he became a free agent in mid-February.
While some head coaches think pre-season losses are no big deal, O’Shea -- who has made a top priority of trying to instill a winning culture in the Winnipeg locker room -- is not one of them.
And so after proclaiming himself "hollow" and "empty" after a pre-season loss to Toronto at home last Monday, O’Shea said jhere Saturday night that he felt even worse about a loss to the Stampeders that saw Calgary kick a pair of field goals in the final two minutes, including the game-winner as time ran out.
"This is worse -- absolutely. We had a chance to win it and we made enough mistakes that it didn’t allow us to win."
After spotting Calgary a 14-0 first quarter lead, O’Shea said he liked the way his team battled back and took a 20-17 lead late into the fourth quarter. "We were a little flat in the first half. So for the guys to respond coming out of halftime and move the ball offensively, I’m very pleased. I’m happy for the guys on offence. They needed to do that for their own confidence."
While the Bombers kicking game was pretty good Saturday night, their return coverage -- particularly on kickoffs -- was abysmal at times.
Calgary had returns of 52 yards (to open the game) and 54 yards, not what you’d expect from a team led by a rookie head coach who prided himself on his special teams both as a former special teams coach and special teams player.
O’Shea wasn’t happy about his special teams Saturday night -- but also not overly concerned. "They weren’t very good. But there’s no reason to panic just yet. We were still rolling a number of players through on special teams that wouldn’t necessarily be in those spots.
"That’s not to give them an excuse why they shouldn’t make those plays, but when we get down to a smaller roster and our guys are set and playing beside each other, it will be better.
"They were not good tonight -- and I am not worried about it."
Bombers starting quarterback Drew Willy played the first half and the first series of the second half and put up some decent numbers -- 14-23 for 172 yards -- despite having not much in the way of support.
Willy was under siege the entire first half and was sacked three times. And his receivers also dropped at least three catchable balls.
But to his credit, Willy was pointing no fingers in the Bombers dressing room after the game. "We had a tough time moving the ball and too many drives that stalled. We’d get a couple first downs but it was just like the first game -- we need to get touchdowns on the board. Singles and field goals aren’t going to win you a lot of games...
"We need to get better and make sure all 12 guys out there are doing what they’re supposed to be doing...We’re not happy about this, but there was a ton of great effort out there. I liked the way we fought."
O’Shea said he was impressed by what Willy showed Saturday in some difficult circumstances. "Drew’s a quiet leader. He’s not that guy that’s ripping on these guys. He understands mistakes happen and he will make some too. He’s a team guy that way.
"It’s unfortunate we had those (mistakes) in the first half because I think we could have had a different result."
O’Shea said he also liked what QB Brian Brohm -- who was the first off the bench in relief of Willy -- showed. Brohm went 4-7 for 62 yards and had an impressive touchdown drive on his first series. "He’s pretty calm in there. He’s calm and collected and he looks like a professional out there."
The Bombers had 77 players on their roster last night and need to get down to 65, plus injured and non-counters, by tonight. O’Shea was asked if anyone won or lost jobs with their performance last night.
"I can’t say that -- I haven’t seen the film," said O’Shea. "And I told the players before the game, they can’t worry about the evaluation. They have to go out and worry about playing and winning the game -- winning each play so we win the game.
"The evaluation takes place after the game. We don’t evaluate during the game at all."