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Unproven Bomber quarterback takes reins of troubled team tonight

There are two ways of looking at the situation in which Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Joey Elliott will find himself tonight when he leads the Bombers on the field at Canad Inns Stadium against the visiting Hamilton Tiger-Cats.


Blue Bombers quarterback Joey Elliott (centre) practises at Canad Inns Stadium on Wednesday. Elliot gets the start tonight against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Blue Bombers quarterback Joey Elliott (centre) practises at Canad Inns Stadium on Wednesday. Elliot gets the start tonight against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

On the one hand, it is difficult to conceive of a more challenging or pressure-packed assignment. With his team 1-5 and the club's season -- and the future employment of its head coach and/or general manager -- potentially hanging in the balance, Elliott is being asked tonight to make his first CFL start in two years with the benefit of nothing more than four days of practise as the starting QB.

And what are your plans for tonight?

But then there's the contrarian point of view, the one that says it is precisely because the odds of the situation are so wildly stacked against him that there is really no pressure at all on Elliott tonight.

"We're 1-5 at this point," Bombers cornerback Jovon Johnson summed up. "What worse could he do?"

It's a sad monument to the sorry state of the Bombers that their woeful record might be their biggest single asset right now, simply because it carries with it basement-level expectations. A jockey couldn't limbo under the low bar the Bombers have set for themselves so far in 2012, meaning it only stands to reason it shouldn't be hard for a team of 42 large men to go over the top of it.

And that provides an opportunity for Elliott tonight, even as he becomes Winnipeg's third starting quarterback in just seven regular-season games this season.

"It's not that hard," Elliott offered Wednesday, when asked to size up tonight's challenge.

"When I came in and played two years ago, we were 4-12. Same situation. Everyone in the locker-room was fighting for a job for the next year. That's how you have to go into every game as a professional."

But while the situation tonight might be similarly dire to his Bombers debut in 2010 (although not nearly as hopeless), Elliott will be looking for a much-improved performance over those efforts. Elliott was a combined 27-of-57 for just 360 yards in his two 2010 starts and the Bombers lost both games to finish that season at 4-14.

Despite the slow start this season, the Winnipeg braintrust still remains hopeful of a much better result than that when the wins and losses are tallied at the end of this season -- and with some justification. With the three teams above the Bombers in the East Division all at 3-3 heading into this week, a win over the Ticats tonight would put the Bombers just two points out of a playoff spot.

What's more, the Bombers were 4-0 against the Ticats last season -- including a 19-3 win in the East Final -- and are 7-3 against Hamilton at Canad Inns Stadium in their last 10.

Where there's life, there's hope, in other words. And his teammates are hoping the addition of Elliott renews both for them tonight.

But first things first.

"He can play, there's no question about that," Bombers tailback Chad Simpson said of Elliott. "But we've got to protect him first."

And the easiest way to do that is to give Simpson the ball more often tonight. Simpson has an impressive 6.4 yards-per-carry average this season -- second only to B.C.'s Andrew Harris among starting tailbacks in the CFL -- but he carried the ball just seven times in the last game and only 36 times through three games this season.

If ever that will change, it should be tonight. For starters, the Ticats have the worst run defence in the league, by far. And with Bombers alumnus Casey Creehan the defensive co-ordinator in Hamilton, you can expect all kinds of pressure to be sent at Winnipeg's new QB tonight, presumably creating even more room for Simpson to work.

Put it altogether and we're back to where we started with Johnson's awkwardly-phrased, but bang-on, encapsulation of his club's prospects under Elliott tonight. What worse could he do?

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 16, 2012 C1

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