Blue Bomber Report Record: 6–3–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Five storylines

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1. STEP UP OR STEP OUT

So here was the scene Thursday morning in what, under normal circumstances, would have been a light walk-through practice for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers:

There was quarterback Buck Pierce, along with offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton, receivers coach Markus Howell and the tiny collection of pass catchers NOT hobbled by injury, working through some last-minute preparations. All this before practice.

Yes, a receiving corps that once featured so much talent and depth -- from Terrence Edwards to Chris Matthews, Cory Watson, Clarence Denmark and Kito Poblah -- has now been stretched so thin the club has promoted Brett Carter, who last season was playing for the Winnipeg Rifles, to the active roster.

Out for the Argos game are Edwards (shoulder), Matthews (back), Watson (hamstring) and Poblah (heel). Coming aboard to join Denmark -- who would have been benched this week had Matthews' back not been so stubborn -- is Doug Pierce, who will be making his third CFL start alongside Jade Etienne, Isaac Anderson and Rory Kohlert.

That doesn't exactly have anybody harkening back to the days of Murphy, Poplawski, Boyd and Tuttle.

"We just have to do our job," said Pierce. "My coach in high school used to say, 'Be prepared for the opportunity or else the opportunity is going to embarrass you.' When it's your time to go you've got to be ready.

"This offence is coming. We've got a lot of potential all over the field from the receivers to the running backs and Buck is looking good. We're ready to go, man. It's coming soon."

 

2. LEASH COMES OFF/BUCK RUNS FREE

The juiciest subplot of the week has certainly been the Bombers' decision to abandon what had been the basis for their offensive makeover during the off-season -- a quick-strike attack featuring maximum protection designed to keep Buck Pierce from being regularly scraped off the turf with a spatula -- to an offence that once again allows their QB to get outside the tackles and make some plays with his feet.

A couple of reasons, it would seem, for this change: First, even with all the risk of having Pierce outside the pocket, they need him to be comfortable in what he is doing. (Plus, the club has surrendered a league-high 14 sacks even with him trying to stay in the pocket). And, second, is best explained by head coach Tim Burke.

"One of the reasons we're putting Buck on the perimeter more is people aren't respecting him as a runner and so they are crashing their (defensive) ends and making the running game hard," said the Bomber head coach. "Hopefully that gets our running game going more as well.

"Buck is a gunslinger kind of quarterback and getting him out on the perimeter allows him to extend plays and find open receivers."

 

3. ANOTHER GEAR FROM THE D?

It isn't a stretch to suggest that with the offence struggling and now missing pieces, it becomes almost incumbent upon the Bomber defensive dozen to crank it up another level. As good as they were last week in Guelph in getting after Henry Burris -- racking up seven sacks -- the veteran pivot still lit them up for 362 yards through the air and two touchdowns and was able to move the chains and keep the Bomber offence off the field while protecting a late lead.

And now they face the always deadly Ricky Ray, Chad Owens & Co. In his two starts against the Bombers a year ago, Ray completed 64.2 per cent of his passes for 708 yards and seven TDs against just one interception.

Yowza.

"We definitely have room for improvement," said cornerback Jovon Johnson. "We know we can play better. We gave up some plays against Hamilton we shouldn't have given up. It was just one of those communication things and when we get that part down we can be even better. I think those guys (offence) are finding a rhythm and starting to come together. They'll be fine and our defence, as long as we keep teams from scoring touchdowns, will be fine.

"The Argos do a lot of things with motion to try and get guys out of position. They get the ball to Chad Owens a lot, they move him all over the field and he pretty much plays the whole game. Ricky Ray is tremendous and Chad Kackert is outstanding. Take those guys out of the equation and they're just an average team."

 

4. PUT THE 'SPECIAL' BACK IN SPECIAL TEAMS

Can't imagine special teams co-ordinator Craig Dickenson and his troops enjoyed going through the video evidence from last week's loss to Hamilton. As legendary Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll once said after a horrible outing, "We don't need to watch the game film to smell this one."

No, the specialists didn't exactly wrap themselves in glory against the Ticats, from punter Mike Renaud throwing an interception on a fake, to placekicker Justin Palardy twice hoofing a kickoff out of bounds, to a botched convert attempt, to 130 of the 161 yards in penalties being attributed to the special teams.

How big are 'specials' in the three-down game? Here's Chad Owens of the Argos:

"Special teams are a want-to unit. In this league if you're a starter on offence or defence you're going to be on specials as well. A lot of guys have to buy in to the fact that special teams have always been a big part of the game, but in the CFL it's even bigger. Field position is huge."

 

5. PROTECT THY HOME TURF

Just for the record, the Bombers are 0-2 in Investors Group Field, including the pre-season. The Bombers haven't won a home game since Nov. 3, 2012 at Canad Inns Stadium -- a 19-11 win over Montreal in which the Alouettes rested Anthony Calvillo. Winnipeg was 4-5 at home a year ago and has posted only two winning records at home in the last five seasons heading into 2013. Dating back to 2008, the Bombers are a lousy 22-24 in their own barn -- hardly making River City the once-nightmarish spot it was for visitors.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 19, 2013 C3

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