1. UNPLUG A.C.
OK, so this has only been written a gazillion times since the day Anthony Calvillo exited Hamilton and hooked up with the Montreal Alouettes back in 1998. But it is still THE key whenever these two clubs knock heads and so it gets trotted out again here.
The veteran pivot has spent years making the Bombers his own personal chew toy, going 27-12 all-time against Winnipeg with an astonishing TD-to-interception ratio of 83:29. How do the Bombers stop the 40-year-old gunslinger, short of kidnapping him or slicing the tendons behind his knees?
"Knocking him on his back would be the No. 1 way," said Bombers head coach Tim Burke. "No quarterback likes to get hit and when you get a little bit older you like to get hit less."
Sounds simple enough in theory, but it's proven to be nightmarish to put into practice over the years. Calvillo is often in the shotgun, works behind a dominant offensive line, makes quick reads and has been around so long it's virtually impossible to fool him with coverages.
So... plan B?
"We have to be physical and challenge their receivers on every play," said Jovon Johnson. "We can't play soft and let them just play pitch and catch, we have to come up and hit those guys and make them play our type of game."
2. REST VS. RUST
Burke, the Bombers' boss, did everything short of swaddling his starters in bubble wrap during the pre-season to keep them healthy heading into the 2013 opener. And yet Kito Poblah is out, Chris Matthews is a game-time decision and Johnny Sears, Jr. isn't quite good to go yet after off-season repairs.
Pierce, the starting QB, enters the season having gone 0-for-5 with an interception in his brief pre-season appearance and Terrence Edwards hasn't played since last fall. Oh, and there's also the changes offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton made to the playbook this winter. Doesn't exactly scream out 'Well-oiled machine', does it?
"Once you get out there and the bullets are flying, it's just like riding a bicycle," reasoned Edwards. "It might take a quarter for both teams to get into the flow of things. Once we feel out what they're doing, we just have to execute our game plan and worry about us.
"Coach Burke had it in his mind that we were going to go into our first game as healthy as possible. That's what we did. Now we've got our full arsenal to go out and play."
3. SAME OLD ALS OR A MYSTERIOUS LOT?
The Als roll into town with a new head coach in Dan Hawkins, new offensive co-ordinator in Mike Miller and a different D boss in Noel Thorpe (their staff, FYI, also includes three former Bombers in Doug Berry, Mark Nelson and Ryan Dinwiddie). And to hear the Bombers tell it, all that change -- plus the vanilla looks they served up in the pre-season -- makes the Als a tough group to game plan against, especially for back-to-back games to open the year.
"We have no idea what we're going to get," said Burke Thursday, "so they definitely have the advantage in that respect... they know what we're doing."
Understandably, Hawkins was asked about that during his press conference Thursday... and promptly stiff-armed that suggestion into the turf.
"I disagree with that," he said. "I don't think we have an advantage because they can do whatever they want as well. Now, true, those guys have a different track record than we do, but we're not going to dramatically change from what we've been doing. Those guys can certainly have things in their back pocket that we haven't see either. In their second pre-season game there were none of their starters or regular guys, so why would we even look at that? They could have had their starters at home working on an entirely different game plan getting ready for us."
4. A BUFF BUCK IS A HEALTHY BUCK?
Pierce enters 2013 a lean, mean fighting machine and with a ton to prove to those who were calling for him to retire during his injury-filled 2012 nightmare. But for all the scheming the coaches have done to keep him from taking serious wallops, for all the pleading with him to slide and get rid of the ball quickly, he is who he is. Heck, the topic was even broached when he first signed here in 2010 and was asked about changing his game. His response: "That would be like asking a dog not to chase a Frisbee."
Asked again on Thursday if he had learned how to take a safety slide, Pierce grinned and said:
"I've slid quite a few times. A lot of people think I've never slid before. I've taken a few classes in the off-season.
5. FAST STARTCONTENTED CUSTOMERS
There's a bit of a doom-and-gloom vibe about this football team, coming off a 6-12 season and two meaningless exhibition games in which the crew dressed up as the Bombers was demolished. The best cure for all that is to jump out of the starting blocks. With this team it's not how you start, but you finish. It's how you start AND how you finish.
Consider this: only once in last five years have the Bombers exited July with a winning record, going 4-1 in 2011. It's no coincidence that was the last time the football team had this town enthralled.