Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Five story lines

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1. WELCOME (BACK) TO THE NEIGHBOURHOOD

Hey, so it's been a while, Ottawa. Good to see you again. A Canadian Football League with a team in the capital just feels whole again.

But after glancing over your depth chart, excuse the Winnipeg Blue Bombers if they don't exactly roll out the welcome mat for this historic first game in the franchise's rebirth. In fact, consider this: Ottawa's 46-man active roster features a more-experienced lineup than the Bombers fielded in Week 1.

Yes, football in the nation's capital may be trying to run away from some ghosts of recent failed incarnations, but the Bombers have their own demons to exorcise. And starting a season 2-0 for the first time since 2011 -- and just the second time since 2003 -- is an excellent way to get folks ambling back to the bandwagon.

That makes this more than just a regular Week 2 matchup on the CFL schedule.

"This is a big day for us, for our franchise, and we're excited to get this thing going," said Redblacks head coach Rick Campbell. "We have set high expectations for ourselves, but we haven't played a game yet. We'll see how we do.

"We're throwing our hat in the ring just like everybody else in the CFL. The first day we met we talked about not being an expansion team, about just being one of the nine teams in the CFL."

 

2. SMILIN' HANK... AGAIN

The Bombers will face a future hall-of-game QB for the second consecutive week to open the 2014 season. Last week it was Ricky Ray and his precision passing game. This week is Ottawa veteran Henry Burris, who is 16-9 in 25 career starts against the Bombers and can still get it done at age 38.

What makes him so tough to defend?

"Do we have enough time? Man, he's just good," said Bomber defensive end Jason Vega.

"He can throw 70 yards. He can run -- which is my nightmare, right? He's aware of our blitz scheme because he played against it once upon a time. The difficulties are seven-fold. He's still running around and throwing it like he's 30."

 

3. MORE WILLY MAGIC?

As debuts go, they don't get more memorable than what Drew Willy did in his first game as the Bombers new QB1. He was the first Bomber to throw for four TDs since Steven Jyles in 2010 and, while completing 19 of 27 passes for 308 yards, was named the CFL's Offensive Player of the Week.

But such is life in pro football: now the question is whether he can do it again?

Willy was asked Wednesday if his first start brought him any more notoriety around town.

"Not too much different," he said with a shrug. "I'm pretty much here or at my place. I go out to eat here and there, but a few more pictures were taken (with fans). That's pretty much it. I'm going to be the same guy no matter what happens.

"I'm loving the energy around the city, Obviously if we can get Investors full it's only going to help our team. It's our job to put a good product out there so the fans want to come back."

One stat that really jumps out from the win over Toronto: Winnipeg's time of possession hit 36 minutes and three seconds, setting a new mark (in the years the stat has been recorded), breaking the old record of 34:45 set Oct. 14, 1995 vs. Toronto.

 

4. CRAZY, WACKY, UNIQUE AND... DOMINANT?

Lost somewhat in all the buzz about the Bombers win last week and the play of their new QB was the work of the team's defence. Gary Etcheverry's bunch came pretty much as advertised: players bounced all over the field, lined up in a variety of positions and offered Ray a number of different looks.

Expect more of the same against Ottawa. And more wrinkles, too.

"It is fun. It's very fun. It's exciting," said Bombers linebacker/safety Johnny Sears, Jr. of the defensive scheme. "You saw it a few times, sometimes I was in the middle, sometimes I was at safety. It's inter-changeable with a lot of guys that can play anywhere. It makes you want to play the game. The coaches give us the insight of what to do and we work it out ourselves.

"It's still early, everything's not really in yet and we're still getting to know guys and feel guys out. We could still get that much better, which is scary when you look at film. We're trying to build it slowly and progress each week as a unit."

 

5. FOOT SOLDIERS UNITE

The Bombers' special-teams units were all over the map in the win over Toronto. They gave up a punt-return TD to Chad Owens and a 77-yard kickoff return by Branden Smith that set up another score. But they also completed a fake punt on a Mike Renaud-to-Teague Sherman pass and got some decent work by their own kick-return crews.

"I'll give us a C-minus," said Bombers' special-teams captain Michel-Pierre Pontbriand. "Specials teams, we are there to win the game, to be excellent. We don't get a second chance like the offence or defence, which get second and third downs. Special teams is one down -- one punt return, one kickoff return -- so we have to seek excellence.

"(The Owens touchdown)... we just talked about that on the bench. It came at the end of the game, but we want to make a good impression every time we're on the field. Hey, s happens... can I say that in the paper? But that play was a good teaching point because we've got a young team. First game for the players, first game for the coaches. I think we can build on that."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 3, 2014 D7

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