December 5, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Move along -- there's nothing to see here.
That was the message from Buck Pierce and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers coaching staff on Monday, one day after the Bombers starting QB missed his team's first practice after a 38-33 opening-week loss to the Montreal Alouettes last week.
While Pierce returned to the practice field on Monday and demonstrated no obvious lingering injury, it still raised the question: Where were you yesterday?
"They gave a couple of the guys that played in the game an extra day of rest," Pierce explained. "It wasn't on the players -- it was up to the coaching staff and they said, 'Just go ahead and rest today and we'll get you plenty of reps the rest of the week.'
"I'm healthy, I'm great. I feel like I'm ready to play."
-- Buck Pierce
Which is awesome, of course. But again -- How come you didn't practice on Sunday, Buck?
"Ask the coaches that," replied Pierce. "They're the ones that wanted me to rest."
So the same question was put to Bombers offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton on Monday -- where was your starting guy at practice on Sunday? "I felt like after the game, he and a couple of other players took a few nicks," replied Crowton. "So I just told him to take a seat and heal up a bit and you'll be full-speed for the game."
While it's not particularly unusual for veteran players to be awarded a "maintenance day" the first practice following a game -- Bombers running back Chad Simpson and receiver Chris Matthews also missed Sunday's practice, for instance -- alarm bells go off anytime the oft-injured Pierce is sidelined.
And that's particularly so in a season in which the Bombers do not have any experienced backup and the club has effectively gambled their entire year on Pierce being able to stay healthy.
-- offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton
With Pierce missing the first practice back following the very first game, there was immediate speculation that perhaps the Bombers QB was once again injured -- speculation which was only reinforced with Crowton's comment on Monday about giving Pierce Sunday off to "heal up a bit."
Pierce had come up hobbling following a play in the first half against Montreal and he was also visibly favouring his left leg in the Bombers locker-room following the game.
Both Pierce and Bombers head coach Tim Burke had insisted following the game that Pierce had emerged healthy, but the quarterback's absence on Sunday seemed to suggest it might not have been so simple.
So, care to account for the apparent discrepancy surrounding Pierce's health, Burke was asked Monday?
"He just got the normal bumps and bruises from the game," Burke insisted during his regular daily media availability on Monday. "So we just held him out of practice (on Sunday) just like Chad and a couple of other guys who were banged up.
"But obviously Buck was out there today taking all the first reps with the team. So he's healthy to go."
If that's the case, then the other question in play this week as the Bombers prepare to face the Alouettes in the rematch Thursday night in Montreal, is how can the Bombers improve on an offensive performance that Pierce, Burke and Crowton all agree was unacceptable in the opening week.
The Bombers offence mustered just 11 first downs in Week 1 -- versus 20 for Montreal -- and Pierce agreed that's going to have to get much better this week if Winnipeg is going to avoid an 0-2 start to the 2013 season.
"We've just got to be more consistent," said Pierce. "We hit some big plays, but we need to be hitting those big plays more often...
"It's not just about hitting the big plays once in a while, but doing it up and down the field for four quarters. Our third quarter was about as good as our offence has played for the last couple years.
"So our focus now is to play four quarters like that."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 2, 2013 C3