On the surface, the signs were encouraging for Buck Pierce at Bombers practice Monday.
There was the quarterback, taking his reps in the first-team offence and running around (gingerly, yes, but still moving forward) like there was nothing wrong with the same right knee that forced him to leave the 33-16 drubbing Winnipeg was put through at the hands of the B.C. Lions last Friday night.
And you know what? Maybe Pierce's knee is OK. Maybe, as he believes to be the case, this latest concern -- a "lower-leg injury," as he tried to pass it off as after practice -- will improve as preparations move along and he'll be under centre when the Bombers travel to Montreal to take on the Alouettes later this week.
Saturday, he was spotted limping around the Vancouver airport with a cane.
Monday, the limp was still there, and the 30-year-old was on the field, giving himself the green light.
"Unless something crazy happens, I'm expecting to go," he told reporters after a steamy workout at Canad Inns Stadium.
"The way I feel, I expect to play this weekend."
Ignore the thick tape job he was sporting at practice; there is no structural damage to the joint, both the player and the team say, and the Bombers medical staff assured head coach Paul LaPolice that practising wouldn't result in any further harm to the knee.
At this stage, everyone wearing Blue and Gold suggests, it's simply a case of managing the pain, letting the swelling eventually work itself down through time and treatment, and getting ready for Montreal.
"He had a good day," LaPolice said. "He said he was sore after the (B.C.) game, but he said, 'I'll get through practice fine, coach,' and he did. He had good mobility, so it was good."
Pierce looked fine on Monday. How will he look on Friday against the Alouettes?
That's the hot question in Bomberland, thanks to the 2012 season opening with another concern about his ability to endure the full 60 minutes of football. There are many factors at work as to why a pivot is forced from a game, yes, but the numbers don't look good for No. 4:
-- Since the start of the 2010 season, Pierce has started 22 regular-season games for Winnipeg (out of 37 possible games). The bulk of those came last year, when he made a career-high 16 starts.
-- In those 22 starts, he's had to leave the contest because of injury eight times -- a 36 per cent frequency.
-- In his eight-year career, Pierce has started 56 games, leaving 21 of them early.
When asked if the Bombers might give some thought to basing their starting quarterback decisions on the figures above, LaPolice was quick in his dismissal.
"Not at this time, no."
That's some good quarterback-controversy deflecting right there, but what's interesting about this latest Pierce worry is that it comes not from his usual disregard for personal well-being (taking on defenders is hazardous to one's health, in case you didn't know) but rather the reality in front of him when he takes the snap from centre. It's not Pierce's fault the Bombers brass chose to go younger along the offensive line -- adding two new first-time starters with rookie backups behind them to open the season, right? Throw in an unforeseen injury to a veteran like left tackle Glenn January -- which forced another rookie into the starting lineup against the Lions -- and bad things can happen to your starting quarterback.
Like 11 passing yards with just a few minutes left to play in the second quarter.
Or four sacks in that same time period.
"Experience helps in any position, not just O-line," LaPolice conceded. "We had four rookies in there? Well, (Chris) Greaves has played a couple games. That's a young unit, but what you want to see is them do the best they can, play with great effort. Hey, when you're a young whatever you are, you gotta execute when you get your opportunities."
Do your best, play with great effort.
On the surface, those hardly qualify as words of encouragement for Pierce -- or for Bomber fans.
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