Blue Bomber Report Record: 6–6–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue can't surprise anyone now

Hot start has CFL's attention, including Als

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MONTREAL -- The Winnipeg Blue Bombers' secret is out.

From Vancouver all the way to here in the CFL's most eastern outpost, the stunning turnaround that has been the 2-0 Bombers this season has emerged as one of the most surprising and compelling story lines of the young season.

But the question now is whether a Bombers team that thrived during the first two weeks of the season in their underdog role can continue to win now that they've shifted to big dogs.

Make no mistake, whatever preconceived notions CFL teams might have had of taking this team lightly -- and it certainly looked like some of that might have been at play in Winnipeg's Week 1 thrashing of Toronto -- no one is underestimating the Bombers anymore, least of all the Montreal Alouettes who host the Bombers tonight.

Listen, for instance, to Alouettes head coach Tom Higgins when he was asked during his pre-game news conference Thursday what he likes about Bombers QB Drew Willy.

"Confidence -- I think he's always had that," said Higgins. "And he seems like a very tough-minded quarterback, which again is something you'd like to have in your quarterback. And I think he's in a place where he can excel."

And it's not just Willy and the Bombers offence that is drawing plaudits these days. Als QB Troy Smith joked that after a week studying Winnipeg's baffling defence under co-ordinator Gary Etcheverry, he tied a mental string around his finger.

"It's very, very confusing if you let it," explained Smith. "They do a lot of different things, different guys in different positions. But you have to remember there's always going to be 12 guys on the field, even though sometimes it might seem or look like it's 13 or 14."

And then there was this from Higgins on rookie Bombers tailback Nic Grigsby, who is second in rushing yards in the CFL after two weeks.

"When you're in the league for a long time, you all of a sudden see some players that are special," said Higgins. "And now if... he continues that pace, we're going to be talking about him in the elite company with some of the better players who have played in the CFL."

This is what happens when your once sad-sack franchise bursts out of the gate to lead the league in points scored, first downs and time of possession, while boasting a QB in Willy who is second only to future Hall of Famer Ricky Ray of Toronto in QB efficiency.

So what does the loss of the surprise factor and all this extra attention and scrutiny of the Bombers mean?

Well, we got at least a glimpse of what Winnipeg's future might look like last week with all the late hits and after-the-whistle abuse heaped on Willy, including one particularly dangerous hit that resulted in the league levying a maximum fine against an Ottawa defender this week.

Defences, it bears reminding, don't hit underperforming quarterbacks after the whistle. It's the other kind they want out of the game, one way or the other.

Still, Willy took the licking and the only after-effects this week appeared to be not from any Ottawa hit, but from him hitting his hand while throwing last week. The middle finger on Willy's throwing hand was still taped Thursday and Willy said it continued to be swollen.

As for all that other unwanted new attention he's been getting...

"They're going to do anything they can to try to get you off your game," said Willy. "So I really just need to stay even-keeled and steady -- basically just play the game I know how to play. Really it just comes down to protecting yourself when you need to and standing in there and taking the hit when you have to make the big throw."

One of the men in charge of keeping Willy safe this season -- tackle Glenn January -- thinks there is too much attention being paid his team right now.

"I'm not sure we've really reached any lofty position right now. We've started off pretty well, we're an improved team but it's a long season," said January. "We're happy with the way we started, but we're not the team we want to be yet. We've got a lot of improvement yet to be made I feel.

"Take it for what it's worth -- it's a good start and we're happy the fans got to see the two wins at home. But the most important thing right now is getting to 3-0."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

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

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