One player is starting to settle into things; the other is just getting started.
The most encouraging sign of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' 23-22 win over the Edmonton Eskimos at Canad Inns Stadium Thursday night was the return of receiver Cory Watson and the impact running back Chad Simpson continues to have on the offensive game plan.
Both players were instrumental in helping get Winnipeg off the rails of a four-game losing streak and provided some much-needed stability for quarterback Alex Brink in an attack that hasn't really seen much of it through the first month of the season.
Watson, now playing in his third season with the Blue and Gold, returned to the lineup after missing the first four losses with a hamstring issue. In his usual reserved style, the Montreal native was quick to deflect talk of his value to the Bombers or what kind of positive presence he provides for a group still searching to find the right gear.
"It feels good to be back to where we need to be," said Watson, who had seven catches for 66 yards in his first game.
The Bombers certainly welcomed the talents of the 28-year-old pass catcher. Five of their first 12 offensive plays from scrimmage were directed to Watson, with four of those connecting as completions to help calm the nerves of the offence.
"It felt good to get some touches early, just to get into the rhythm of the game," Watson said. "The plays weren't designed for me necessarily, they were just check-down reads, but I was happy to get involved right away."
Watson's return gave the Bombers the full contingent of starting receivers for the first time this season and resets an area believed to be the strength of the offence. Rookie non-import Rory Kohlert performed well in his place (six catches for 62 yards), but Watson gives the unit a little more experience -- a needed element with Brink leading the huddle and an offensive line still finding its collective footing.
"Cory Watson was a big help (Thursday)," said slotback Terrence Edwards, who had seven catches for 67 yards against Edmonton. "Rory did a great job in his absence, don't get me wrong, but Cory really brought a veteran presence out there. He's physical. He made some tough catches across the middle and his blocking helped.
"You can't just replace what he can do for the offence."
While Watson hopes Thursday was the beginning of a healthy, productive season, Simpson was anxious to get back on the field to continue his acclimatization to the Canadian game. The former NFL tailback augmented his 14-carry, 73-yard effort on the ground by catching five passes for another 49 yards through the air, giving him 244 total yards in two games.
Simpson missed the first three contests with a leg injury, which continues to bother him, and admitted it feels like he's still getting situated in the Winnipeg offence.
"It's just good to see the progress, though; that's the most important thing about this win," he said Thursday night. "Last game (against Toronto), we made a little bit of progress. This game here, we made a little bit more. We're going in the right direction."
The pats on the back ended there, however. Simpson was quick to shoot down a notion that the offence, which put up over 400 yards against the Eskimos, was starting to show signs of life.
"We can get better," he said. "We almost beat ourselves with my fumble, a couple missed assignments and a bad holding call that took away a big play. As an offence, we're still making it harder than it has to be, you know?"
That may be true, but it's up to the coaching staff to iron out those wrinkles as the season settles in. Having all the pieces back -- with guys like Watson and Simpson starting to feel comfortable once again -- is a good start for the Bombers.
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IT'S NOT ALL SUNSHINE
THURSDAY'S win over Edmonton, the fact the Blue Bombers put up over 400 yards (402, to be exact) and the numbers put forth by quarterback Alex Brink (26-of-38 for 294 yards) might give the Winnipeg offence reason to smile this weekend.
Sense a 'but' coming?
It's not all good news. Wide receivers Chris Matthews and Kito Poblah -- two of the more physically gifted players on the roster -- have been forgotten parts in the Bombers offence the last two outings.
Matthews did haul in a 40-yard Hail Mary touchdown at the end of the first half in Winnipeg's 23-22 victory against the Eskimos (a broken play the Bombers were fortunate to complete), but after that his impact was minimal. Take away that one grab: He had two receptions for 12 yards.
Heading into Saturday's slate of games, Matthews still led the CFL in receiving yards (24 catches for 418 yards), so this is more a nitpick than a major concern, but the club can't be thrilled with the recent drop-off in production. Since Week 3, when he had 350 yards, the 22-year-old has pulled down only four balls for 68 yards.
There is no mystery anymore; defences are starting to key on him.
Meanwhile, Poblah, the top pick in the 2011 supplemental draft and widely considered a can't-miss CFL talent, has yet to find his stride. The Canadian had just one catch Thursday (a 37-yard reception that saw him battle through a number of tackles for the bonus yardage) and has just 14 catches for 153 yards and no touchdowns this season.
Granted, it's just his second year in the league (he missed most of 2011 with injury), so he should get the benefit of the doubt right now, but given his skill set -- and the expectations placed on him this off-season -- Winnipeg needs to get Poblah more involved to round out the offence.