Something odd about Willy from the get-go

QB gave off strange vibe before season even started


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EDMONTON — In retrospect, it was clear right from Day 1 — literally Day 1 — there was something a bit off with Drew Willy this season.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/07/2016 (2324 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

EDMONTON — In retrospect, it was clear right from Day 1 — literally Day 1 — there was something a bit off with Drew Willy this season.

It was the day before the first pre-season game and Willy was in the basement of Investors Group Field taking questions from reporters when I asked him one he didn’t like.

“Do you feel you have something to prove in 2016?”

It seemed a straightforward question, as far as I was concerned. Willy had started and finished just seven of Winnipeg’s previous 25 games heading into this season, and there were serious questions about whether he really had what it takes to be a starting quarterback in the CFL.

It was clear to me — and, I thought, everyone else — he had a lot to prove this year, particularly after missing more than half of last season with a knee injury, and I was expecting from a polished veteran such as Willy some variation of an answer along the lines of:  

“Yeah, of course I have something to prove. The last couple seasons didn’t go the way anyone wanted, least of all me. I’m capable of better and I’m really looking forward to showing the loyal fans of this community what I can do this season.”

Simple, right?

You’d think, but you’d think wrong. Willy bristled at the question — you could actually see him flinch at one point — and proceeded to offer up a series of clichés that added up to an insistence — despite all the available evidence — he felt this coming season was like any other, with nothing special to prove to anyone, even himself.

It was such a strange answer, I decided to ask the question a second time, putting the ball back up on the tee and fully expecting Willy to take advantage of a mulligan to drive that ball to eternity.

Instead, he just got madder.

“I will give you the same answer I just gave you,” snapped Willy. “I don’t get the question.”

He got the question just fine. The real problem — as Bombers fans have become painfully aware over the last two months — is Willy simply didn’t have an answer, off the field or on it.

So it is that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will in Week 6 of this 2016 CFL season have a a perfectly heatlhy man earning $400,000 a year holding a clipboard on the sideline when the Bombers play the Eskimos in Edmonton Thursday night.

Willy has proven something this season, all right. He’s proven, for the time being at least, Matt Nichols is the better option under centre.

Willy’s numbers are both hugely misleading and particularly damning. On the one hand, he’s among the league leaders in completion percentage and yards passing. On the other, the offence is averaging less than 20 points a game, Willy has won just six of his last 17 starts, and the last time a Willy-led offence scored 30 points was at the start of the 2015 season.

Throw in a 12-21 career record as a CFL starter and it would seem safe to say Willy has even more to prove today than he did that day last month when he bristled at the mere suggestion.

It was a weird answer from Willy that day, but then it’s been a bit weird with Willy and the Bombers from the very start.

At a news conference in February 2014 the Bombers called to unveil Willy after they’d acquired him in a trade with Saskatchewan, Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea proclaimed on the spot Willy would be the starter.

QB, despite the fact Willy had the grand total of four CFL starts on his resumé at that point and training camp was still months away.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Relegated quarterback Drew Willy (left) looks on as new starter Matt Nichols prepares to throw a pass during Tuesday’s practice at Investors Group Field.

You know it’s going to be weird when there’s still three feet of snow on the ground and your team’s head coach is already proclaiming a QB that raw as the starter.

And it’s really never stopped being weird between O’Shea and Willy ever since. In a league in which CFL head coaches regularly make use of their backup QBs for special packages or to give defences a new wrinkle or simply on a hunch, O’Shea has been all-in on Willy since Day 1, tolerating no dissent and rejecting any suggestion Willy could still be his guy even while another guy got some playing time, too.

He’s your quarterback, not your wife. You’re allowed to sample the other merchandise.

And that’s the funny thing: Willy was O’Shea’s guy until all of a sudden he wasn’t this week. In the football equivalent of changing your relationship status on Facebook, the Bombers had a staff writer post a story to the team’s website Sunday morning, announcing to the world Nichols would replace Willy as the starting QB this week.

It was all very dramatic, and unnecessesarily so. You’d think a team that once posted a tweet that said, “Justin Goltz will start at quarterback for the remainder of the season,” would have learned its lesson about these kinds of pronouncements.

But these are the Bombers we’re talking about. Like other CFL teams, they make lots of mistakes. Unlike other teams, they don’t seem to learn from them.

So now a team that was so stubbornly all-in on Willy is apparently going to do the same with Nichols.

Relationship status: “It’s complicated.”

It always is at Investors Group Field.

Twitter: @PaulWiecek


Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.


Updated on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 10:13 PM CDT: added extra photo

Updated on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 10:15 PM CDT: changed photo

Updated on Wednesday, July 27, 2016 12:54 PM CDT: Video added

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