December 7, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Buck PIERCE got a sheepish grin on Friday as he described the brief and pointed conversation he'd had with offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton the day before.
"He said, 'Buck, what are you doing? That's the first play of the pre-season. We're doing everything to protect you and you're doing that?'
"So I said, 'I'm sorry.' And we moved on."
What got Pierce called on the carpet on Thursday -- and all of Investors Group Field holding their breath the night before -- was the Bomber QB's wacky decision to take off and run with the ball on the very first offensive play of the season during Winnipeg's 24-6 pre-season loss to the Toronto Argonauts.
Making matters worse, Pierce also decided on the play to take on two Toronto defenders head-on rather than simply sliding under their tackles -- as he's been told by the Bombers coaching staff to do, over and over again during his four years in Winnipeg.
To the relief of the fans and Crowton -- who'd spent his entire winter redesigning the Bombers' offence precisely to avoid placing Pierce in that kind of physical jeopardy this year -- Pierce popped up after the play and no harm was done.
But it illustrated just how fragile is the Bombers' plan this season to go with an oft-injured starting quarterback who has thus far in his career been unable to tame the competitive fire that is simultaneously his greatest single asset and liability.
Crowton can bring in all the tight ends and fullbacks and three-step drops and new blocking schemes in the world in 2013 -- none of them will do a bit of good this season if Pierce continues to take on linebackers in the open field.
If there was a silver lining to the episode, it was that it at least gave Bombers fans something to talk about in a game that was otherwise devoid of offensive spark on the Winnipeg side of scrimmage.
Winnipeg mustered just 227 total yards in offence against the backup Argos defence and the Bombers' offence looked a lot more like the anemic unit that started the 2012 season than the much more effective one that finished it.
Now, it bears repeating that this was simply a pre-season scrimmage, with Winnipeg using all four of their QBs and lots of backups on offence who will be long gone when the regular season starts at the end of this month.
But even against that backdrop, Crowton admitted Friday he expected better from his team.
"Obviously, I'm focused on getting ready for the season, but at the same time, you want things to go well in the pre-season.
"And I was disappointed in some things I saw, although I also saw some good things out there."
And the good things Crowton says he saw Wednesday evening are exactly those things he's been so focused on all off-season.
"I thought the protection was pretty good, for the most part. The pocket was good.
"They were blitzing a lot and we did a couple of adjusts that we hit on. And those are some things we didn't do as well last year that we improved upon."
Crowton also cautioned Bombers fans the offence that was on display Wednesday night does not even remotely resemble the game plan that will be in place come regular season.
"I didn't want to show very much. I did that last year and I'm learning that they're just going to be in man (coverage) all day. I just wanted guys to get the mechanics of the game, so we didn't do a lot of motions, we didn't do a lot of formations."
Pierce failed to complete any of his five passing attempts and said Friday he would prefer to get another chance to get into a game when the Bombers face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Guelph, Ont., next week for the second and final pre-season game for both teams.
But Crowton says that's not going to happen. "My plan with Buck is this -- I plan on giving him more reps in practice but none in the game.
"I'm going to get him ready during the practice week instead of the game, whereas the other guys (backups Justin Goltz, Max Hall and Chase Clement) will get less practice reps but they're going to get to play in the game.
"That way, those guys can get some game experience, which Buck already has."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 15, 2013 C1