Sometimes when you think -- or even know -- something is about to happen, a part of you remains in denial until it hits you in the face.
If the first Bombers exhibition game gave us any insight into what lies ahead, it is that the season for "Buck Hunting" will officially run from June 27 until at least Nov. 2, and seven permits and bag tags have been issued throughout the CFL.
In case you missed it, in a game that meant absolutely nothing to either team outside of evaluation, during the short stanza the Bombers' No. 1 pivot was in the game, the Argonauts went after him like a Roy (Big Country) Nelson overhand right. Yet once Buck was taken out of the game, they weren't nearly as aggressive, playing the vanilla brand of football we most often see and expect in the pre-season.
Bombers head coach Tim Burke had an inkling this might happen, enough so that he even spoke with Argos head coach Scott Milanovich before the game to see where he was at. Whether he was misled or this part of the game plan was simply not disclosed, it is crystal clear to everybody now this is how the regular season will play out.
Buck Pierce is going to be in the crosshairs of every defensive co-ordinator's scope and the recipient of every exotic blitz that has ever been conceived -- unless his opponents are made to pay dearly for their aggression, time and again.
But how is this different from how these coaches will approach any other game and any other QB?
As much as defensive co-ordinators love to pressure quarterbacks in the CFL, and hit them, they don't always mortgage the farm to go after them. In fact, depending upon whom they are playing, they don't even try to. It is an ever-changing consideration of the risk and reward of being so aggressive.
For proof of this, look back no further than the 2012 Grey Cup game. After effectively taking away the Stampeders ground game and nullifying Jon Cornish, the Argos did not go after quarterback Kevin Glenn on obvious passing downs. In fact, they rarely rushed more than four defenders, often only three, and dared Glenn to beat them with his arm.
The Argos did not believe Glenn could win without a balanced attack and the advantage of play action, and forced him to throw into a scenario with eight or nine defenders in coverage, and they were right.
Other teams, like the Bombers, rarely blitz anybody because of how much they believe in their front-four pass rush. If you can pressure and "get home" sending only four rushers on a consistent basis, why compromise or expose your back end by committing anybody else?
As of now, though, the considerations for defensive co-ordinators game-planning Winnipeg are different from these examples. Teams are willing to risk a big play and expose themselves because they feel the payoff for hitting Buck is worth it. Quite simply, the risk is worth the reward to them. Experience has taught them either the Bombers won't protect Buck sufficiently or he won't be able to get rid of the ball in time and therefore they won't be vulnerable to a big play. And once they do get to him, he may not get back up. It's been a win, win, win scenario.
Last Thursday, the Argonauts tried to do themselves and the rest of the East Division a favour by eliminating the Bombers from playoff contention before the regular season even begins by legally taking Pierce out of the equation.
The new offence, the new protections, the new priority to get the ball out of Buck's hands as quickly as possible and the productivity of the run game are the most critical determinants of success or failure for the Blue Bombers football club this year.
Open season for Buck hunting starts in earnest on June 27. The only way to invalidate these licences is to start making defences pay so badly and so often, they are forced to rethink their strategies for the hunt.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.