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Bomber Report

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue need force field for Buck, à la Alouettes

Posted: 11/6/2012 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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If Buck Pierce wants to return and continue to quarterback the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, there is only one scenario that is conceivable for him as a starting-pivot solution.

Buck would have to become the Anthony Calvillo of the Bombers, and in more ways than one.

Back in 2007, I thought Calvillo's career was all but over. The Montreal Alouettes had ended the season in third place and just in time for us to knock them out of the first round of the playoffs at home. That post-season game, however, was just a microcosm of what we had seen all season long, and perhaps the last two seasons. Calvillo was getting pin-balled on the field and he could no longer stand up to the punishment he was receiving.

He was 35 years old, and the secret to beating Montreal was out. Hit Calvillo hard and he will falter and fail, and defensive co-ordinators across the land were only too happy to endorse this theory and bring the heat.

Teams were sacking A.C. five, six, seven times a game and you could see his performance suffer as a result. By the end of a game he was chucking and ducking, he could not set his feet in the pocket and he was gun-shy. He couldn't run and had nowhere to hide.

Fortunately for Calvillo, in 2008, Marc Trestman was hired as the new head coach. I never spoke to Trestman about how and why he came to change the offensive system they ran, but it was pretty clear from my position as a defensive player that the days of target practice on No. 13 were long over.

Trestman recognized he had an elite-level talent at his fingertips, one that did not have the physical wherewithal to stand up to being punished on a regular basis. So he implemented the system that you see today, a scheme that forces defensive co-ordinators to drastically alter their approach to attacking him and relies on Calvillo's pinpoint accuracy and quick release.

When you play Montreal these days, the very first thing your defensive co-ordinator warns you of is, "Don't get frustrated about not being able to get to A.C. Just keep rushing him and try to get your hands up."

Calvillo was susceptible to physical play when he was in his mid-30s; he is even more vulnerable now that he is 40, and I would dare say as prone to injuries as Buck. Yet you may only see him take a shot -- the likes of which Buck seemingly incurs on a weekly basis -- once in an entire football season.

The reason he has an almost impenetrable force field around him is that the Alouettes system commits to protecting him like Fort Knox. At a minimum, they keep six blockers in on passing plays, and we've seen them use as many as eight at times when we were only rushing four. You may beat the man in front of you cleanly, but that still won't necessarily get you to A.C. You'll at least have a back to contend with before you get a sniff of the No. 13 jersey.

To start every game, the Alouettes play with a faster tempo than any other team in the CFL. Their first couple of series are filled with nothing but quick, short routes and timing patterns to get you chasing your tail. Calvillo knows where he is going with the football and he delivers it faster and more accurately than anybody else. When you keep additional personnel in to block, you better be able to thread the needle and throw into double coverage, and A.C. is a master of these tactics.

When the Alouettes are on top of their game, they are also a quick-strike offence. They identify weaknesses so well that it seems they get points almost every time they touch the ball in the early goings.

By the time you've figured out how their offence has decided to exploit you, you are too tired, too winded and often too far behind to mount a rush or do much about it.

At 31 years of age, Buck Pierce could probably play another three or four seasons if he fit into a system that emphasized protection as much as the Alouettes.

Do the Bombers have the offensive capabilities to implement such a system, when they were outscored more than three to one in the first quarter this season? Does Buck fit a scheme like that and does he have the same ability to process information as rapidly as A.C., with the same quick release and level of accuracy?

Some things are easier said than done.

 

Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 6, 2012 D2

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