Blue Bomber Report Record: 6–7–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Big men have big problem

O-line taking heat for Blue inability to run ball

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MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 
The often unprotected Drew Willy fires a pass during Sunday�s workout. The QB and his Blue and Gold teammates are back in action Tuesday in Toronto.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The often unprotected Drew Willy fires a pass during Sunday�s workout. The QB and his Blue and Gold teammates are back in action Tuesday in Toronto. Photo Store

They are some of the biggest homo sapiens walking the planet, each at least six-feet tall and punishing the scales at more than 300 pounds -- give or take a T-bone or two.

When a group that big has its manhood questioned -- as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive line has over the last few days because of an inability to run the ball -- then it tends to really stick in their collective craw.

Now, to be clear, the Bombers' ineptitude in running the ball in last week's loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders means many culprits get the fingers of blame pointed in their direction. Running back Nic Grigsby has to hit the holes with more authority; quarterback Drew Willy needs to be sharper in his play fakes.

But the big eaters up front also know this: An offensive line is judged by how often the QB is put flat on his back and how many yards a running back can churn out consistently.

So, when Willy is sacked five times and Grigsby finishes with seven yards on 10 carries, well, the offensive line isn't exactly in a giddy mood heading into the film sessions.

"Every offensive lineman wants to run the ball," said head coach Mike O'Shea after practice Sunday. "They take it to heart, they take it very seriously. People are asking questions about their ability to run the ball and they're pointing the fingers at them.

"It doesn't go unnoticed with these guys. They want, desperately, to run the ball. They want to be the group that pushes piles and does that."

And when the pile doesn't get pushed?

Consider these numbers:

-- The Bombers ran 11 times on first down vs. the Riders, averaging just 1.4 yards. Saskatchewan, by comparison, rushed 19 times for 106 yards on first down, an average of 5.6 yards.

-- The Bombers were second and seven or more on 15 occasions, converting just six.

-- Also, all three of Willy's interceptions came on second-down plays.

"We've done some good things in our game plan for this week to be able to run the ball a little bit better," said Willy. "It's all 12 of us, it's not just the O-line. It's blocking, it's my fakes. It comes down to a lot of things. We're going to need to run the ball. It's very important as you get later in the year and it's not as easy when you're in second and 10 or longer. We have the personnel to do it, we just need to focus in on the little things. I think we'll definitely get there.

"Guys always talk about a quarterback's best friend being a good running game. It opens up the play action and different holes. Whatever way we have to do it to win, that's what we have to do. So, if we have to throw it 40 times or we have to run it 40 times, coach Bellefeuille will make that decision. He's open to suggestions, which is great. I can always go to him and say what I like and he can tell me what he likes.

"It would be definitely nice to get Grigsby going like we did in that first game."

Ah, yes, that first game. It was way back in late June when Grigsby, in the season opener against the Toronto Argonauts, rushed 21 times for 122 yards, an average of 5.8 yards. But since then he's rushed 69 times for 228 yards for just 3.3 yards per carry.

That's an ugly number in any league.

"If you can run the ball it definitely takes the pressure off of everyone, takes the pressure off the quarterback, the receivers, the play calling," said centre Steve Morley. "But when you become one-dimensional like we did at the end of the game, that's what teams feed off. Guys like John Chick, if he knows you're just pass blocking, his game becomes just that much better.

"If we can run block the whole fourth quarter because we're up, that's an O-lineman's dream. But if we're pass blocking the entire fourth quarter, that's a D-lineman's dream."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 11, 2014 C1

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