Blue Bomber Report Record: 3–15–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Very much a work in progress

Polished Ticats outshine Bombers as season looms

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The good news is it was just a pre-season game.

The bad news is that it will be the regular season next week and if Wednesday night at Canad Inns Stadium is any indication, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers still have a long way to go before they're going to be ready for prime-time.

With most of the starters for both teams playing in the first half, the Bombers were outplayed on offence, defence and special teams before a crowd of 28,300 by an East Division rival Hamilton Tiger-Cats squad that looked a lot further along in their pre-season development than Winnipeg does right now.

By night's end, Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice had a blunt answer to the blunt question: Your guys ready for the regular season?

"They better be," said LaPolice, "because we're about eight days away or whatever it is."

It's exactly eight days. And from all appearances last night, there's more work still to be done than anyone might have imagined.

Indeed, while it is the Bombers offence that is the big question mark coming into this 2012 season, it was the vaunted Bombers defence -- playing with all their projected starters, with the lone exception of injured linebacker Marcellus Bowman -- that was shredded by Hamilton Tiger-Cats starting QB Henry Burris on this night.

Looking a lot more like the Burris that won the CFL's most outstanding player award in 2010 than the one who was chased out of Calgary in 2011, Burris went 16-for-22 for 188 yards in the first half and rushed for an eye-popping 91 yards on 9 carries, including a 12-yard scamper for a touchdown on the first drive of the game.

Yeah, it was just pre-season and the final score -- 26-25 for Hamilton -- doesn't matter.

But it was also a sobering sight when you consider that pretty much the same defence that gave up 313 yards of total offence to Burris and company in the first half last night is going to be on the field again next Friday night, when Winnipeg opens their regular season schedule on the road in Vancouver against the defending Grey Cup champion B.C. Lions.

Calm down, said Bombers cornerback Jovon Johnson. "Concerned about what? At the end of the day, it's just the pre-season," said Johnson. "When we get ready to play in the first week, we'll be ready to go."

So how about the Winnipeg offence? Last night was the first glimpse anyone's really had of what new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton intends to do this season and it played out, predictably, as a mixed bag.

There was lots of no-huddle in the first half, which was a little different. But what was most surprising was that an offence that is supposedly going to be about a lot of small-ball this season -- short screen passes, etc. -- relied instead on the big play, as they did last year, for what little offence they did generate in the first half.

After a couple of two-and-outs to start the game and with Winnipeg trailing 10-0, starting QB Buck Pierce finally found a spark five minutes into the second quarter in the form of a 57-yard pass-and-run to wide receiver Kito Poblah down to the Hamilton one-yard line.

Backup QB Alex Brink rushed for the TD one play later.

Another long Pierce completion near the end of the second quarter to wide receiver Chris Matthews went for 45 yards and when you put those two completions together, you had 102 of the 154 passing yards Pierce generated in a first half that saw him complete just 5 of 15 passing attempts.

"Obviously, we've got to clean some things up," said Pierce. "It's still a work in progress... And it felt pretty good out there, honestly.

"We had a few drops and those little things stop drives."

And for the record, the Bombers trailed only 16-8 coming out of the first half and had a chance to win the game on the final play of the game.

But in the end, the margin of difference on this night was three bad missed field goals -- a 30-yard shank by Justin Parlardy and misses of 29 yards and, on the final play, 37 yards by Eric Wilbur.

Both Brink and fellow backup QB Joey Elliott threw touchdown passes against the Ticats second and third teams in the second half -- 14 yards from Brink to Doug Pierce in the third quarter and a 30-yard Elliott strike to Kurt Adams with under five minutes to play.

FIELD NOTES -- The Bombers have to trim their current 70-man roster down to a 46-man regular season roster -- plus a seven-man practice roster and injuries -- by Saturday.

the fifth quarter c3

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2012 C1

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