Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/5/2016 (2013 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Two major moments in Winnipeg Blue Bombers franchise history occurred at the conclusion of the 2011 season: defensive tackle Doug Brown retired and the Bombers made their last appearance in the CFL playoffs.
Coincidence? Maybe a bit, but definitely not entirely.
There is no overstating the impact Brown had on the Bombers. He was both a dominating pass rusher and stifling against the run and the fact he did it all while holding a Canadian passport — and providing all-important ratio flexibility — made him quite literally impossible to replace.
Until — maybe, just maybe — now.
'Stats don't really do it for me. I just focus more on playing consistent and doing things the same way, game in and game out'
With Winnipeg’s off-season signing of free agent Keith Shologan, the Bombers, for the first time since Brown retired, have a dominating non-import presence on the interior of their defensive line.
An eight-year CFL veteran, Shologan comes to the Bombers off a career season in 2015 in which he recorded a career-high seven sacks and was a key part of a remarkable Ottawa Redblacks defence that was the stingiest in the league against the run, en route to a Grey Cup game appearance in the franchise’s second year.
Like Brown, Shologan is an iron man, playing in all 18 games in five of his eight CFL seasons. And like Brown, his Canadian passport will give the Bombers some much-needed ratio flexibility.
But stretching the comparison any further — at least at this point — would be unfair to both men. Brown was a seven-time all-star, first-ballot Hall of Famer and, by some estimations, the greatest tackle to ever play in the CFL, while Shologan is more of a career grinder, albeit one coming off a peak effort in 2015.
The intriguing question heading into this season is whether Shologan can duplicate last year’s performance for the Bombers in 2016.
"I was blessed last year with just kind of getting the stats," Shologan said Sunday following the opening day of the Bombers main training camp at Investors Group Field. "I watched myself and I was playing the same way I played my whole career.
"I just ended up being the first guy to actually hit (the quarterback) seven times... Stats don’t really do it for me. I just focus more on playing consistent and doing things the same way, game in and game out. That’s what I was really happy about in how I played last year."
The good news for Shologan is he will have lots of help on a defensive line that will include both returning defensive end Jamaal Westerman — who finished second in the CFL in sacks in 2015 — and dominating tackle Euclid Cummings, who like Shologan, comes to the Bombers off a career season with the Toronto Argonauts that saw him record eight sacks.
Put the numbers of Shologan and Cummings together and the new interior of the Bombers defensive line had a combined 15 sacks last season, an almost unheard of number for interior linemen and two-and-a-half times the six sacks the Bombers tackles recorded last season.
"He’s very smart," Cummings said of Shologan. "Just playing next to him is going to elevate my game, just being a smarter player and knowing what to do. And as far as what I bring to the table, I’m definitely going to bring elusiveness, high intensity and get after it."
The Bombers defence finished seventh in the CFL last season against the run and was sixth in sacks, meaning just about anything Shologan and Cummings add to the effort should be an improvement.
Were all those sacks by Shologan and Cummings in 2015 a fluke and should both men be expected to revert to mean this season? Or can the Bombers really expect 15 sacks in 2016 from their interior lineman?
"Why would I want to limit them?" Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea grinned Sunday at the prospect.
The last word in all this goes to offensive guard Sukh Chungh, who said Cummings was the toughest lineman he had to block last season and Shologan wasn’t far behind.
Chungh said having the two men in Blue and Gold this season comes as a mixed blessing for him. On the one hand, he doesn’t have to play against them anymore. But on the other hand…
"It’s definitely already been a tougher practice," said Chungh, out of breath and soaked in sweat after lining up against Cummings and Shologan for 90 minutes.
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.