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Bomber Report

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Trench warfare

Anything goes in no man's land between Bombers and Riders

Posted: 08/29/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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The Blue Bombers offensive line practises Thursday for the inevitable nastiness they'll face when they take on the Saskatchewan Roughriders this weekend.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

The Blue Bombers offensive line practises Thursday for the inevitable nastiness they'll face when they take on the Saskatchewan Roughriders this weekend. Photo Store

Nothing that unfolds in football's trenches -- that murky, often violent space between the offensive and defensive line -- is new to Glenn January.

Rules are regularly broken. Insults are regularly hurled. Bodies parts are regularly squeezed and punched at the bottom of a pile of humanity -- all in the attempt to somehow gain an extra square inch of turf.

And then there was that game against Edmonton a few years back...

"I once saw a man -- he played for the Eskimos -- urinate in his pants and throw up down his shirt to try and intimidate me," began January, a Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive tackle. "He was trying to act crazy. It's the same guy who said he was going to kill my family. I guess he thought that would throw me off my game. I won't say his name out of respect for his family.

"But, needless to say, there's all sorts of weird stuff like that at the line of scrimmage. Everybody's trying to gain an advantage."

'I once saw a man... urinate in his pants and throw up down his shirt to try and intimidate me'

-- Glenn January

While it's been a juicy couple of days in the buildup to the annual Labour Day Classic showdown between the Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders -- grabbing the headlines were the return of Weston Dressler, the status of Darian Durant, the hit on Drew Willy's throwing hand during practice Thursday -- it could be said the outcome will be determined by what happens right at the line of scrimmage.

Same old, same old, right?

"You hear it's a game of inches all the time," said Bombers defensive tackle Bryant Turner, Jr. "At the line of scrimmage, those are the most important inches. A six-inch step by an offensive lineman can give away a sack. Defensive backs and receivers, they can make things up with their speed. In the front lines, there's not too much time to make up for an error.

"It comes down to heart and want-to and technique down there. I feel like every game is determined by what goes on in the trenches."

That was never more obvious than in the last meeting between these teams, a 23-17 Rider win at Investors Group Field just over three weeks ago. The Bombers had more first downs (20-12), more passing yards (303-115) and held a 17-16 lead with under three minutes to go before a Drew Willy pass was intercepted by Terrell Maze and returned for the game-winning TD.

Some other big numbers jump off the page from that battle, namely the 186 rushing yards the Riders amassed against the Bomber defence -- including 129 yards by power back Jerome Messam in the second half alone -- while Saskatchewan got to Willy five times, with three of the sacks registered by John Chick.

And one more: Bomber tailbacks Nic Grigsby and Paris Cotton carried 11 times for eight yards.

"What's the old saying? If you win, the quarterback, running back and receivers get all the credit. And if you lose, the O-line gets the blame," said Bombers centre Steve Morley. "Saskatchewan's O-line and D-line, as the word on the street goes, are the tops in the league. They're a complete team. I don't want to use a bunch of clichés, but it's going to be a fight."

Now the question is how -- or if -- the Bombers are better prepared to handle that slugfest at the line of scrimmage. In the wake of the loss earlier this month, Bombers defenders insist it wasn't scheme or anything the Riders did in their game plan that made them so dominant along the ground, but simply some shoddy Winnipeg tackling.

Meanwhile, along the offensive line, an injury to Pat Neufeld means the Bombers will likely start a third import up front, with Jarvis Jones sliding in at right guard alongside Cordaro Howard, with Glenn January at the other tackle.

"Everything, ultimately, goes through the offensive line," said January. "The centre is the only player that's guaranteed to touch the ball on every play. But we want the glory to go to the skill guys like Nic and Drew. We can easily screw up stuff for an offence, but our goal is to go unnoticed."

Unless it's a rivalry game -- hello -- and things get really nasty. For that, we go back to January with another trench warfare tale...

"Back in college we (Texas Tech) were playing against Texas A&M and I was shutting down the guy across from me. I was knocking this guy around the whole game," January recalled. "So he came up with a plan to pull off his own helmet and then draw a 15-yard penalty for me punching him in the face.

"He did it once and it didn't work. He did it a second time and I actually socked him in the face and took the 15 yards."

Welcome to the life at the line of scrimmage, football fans. Strap up your proverbial chinstraps. Sunday could be fun.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2014 C3

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