December 11, 2018

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Bombers are 'like a brotherhood'

Players put personal achievements behind team success

They aren’t flashy, even if they’re arguably the most consistent group in the Canadian Football League. In fact, not a single receiver on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers has eclipsed 100 yards through the air in any of the team’s seven games this season.

Although that kind of individual production — or, rather, lack thereof — might have some in the locker room gnashing their teeth, it remains all smiles among the Bombers’ catchers. If you were to ask the players, that’s because the culture in Winnipeg has never been about any one player and his success.

“We care for one another — it’s like a brotherhood,” said Darvin Adams, who has a team-high 335 yards on 21 catches, good for 13th overall among CFL receivers. “Sometimes, you get guys coming in and they let their ego get in the way and they want to see themselves prevail over others. Here, we just like to see anyone do good and we’re happy about that. We know at some point, one of our numbers is going to be called on and it’s about taking turns making plays.”

To hear Adams tell it, you’d think the idea that the all-for-one-one-for-all approach would be second nature in professional sports. It only makes sense that teammates would create the ideal support system for one another and that success for one ultimately means success for the entire team.

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They aren’t flashy, even if they’re arguably the most consistent group in the Canadian Football League. In fact, not a single receiver on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers has eclipsed 100 yards through the air in any of the team’s seven games this season.

Although that kind of individual production — or, rather, lack thereof — might have some in the locker room gnashing their teeth, it remains all smiles among the Bombers’ catchers. If you were to ask the players, that’s because the culture in Winnipeg has never been about any one player and his success.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Files</p><p>Drew Wolitarsky and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers share a special bond where egos take a back seat to team camaraderie.</p></p></p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Files

Drew Wolitarsky and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers share a special bond where egos take a back seat to team camaraderie.

"We care for one another — it’s like a brotherhood," said Darvin Adams, who has a team-high 335 yards on 21 catches, good for 13th overall among CFL receivers. "Sometimes, you get guys coming in and they let their ego get in the way and they want to see themselves prevail over others. Here, we just like to see anyone do good and we’re happy about that. We know at some point, one of our numbers is going to be called on and it’s about taking turns making plays."

To hear Adams tell it, you’d think the idea that the all-for-one-one-for-all approach would be second nature in professional sports. It only makes sense that teammates would create the ideal support system for one another and that success for one ultimately means success for the entire team.

But that’s certainly not always the case, whether it’s in the CFL or the NFL. More often, when dealing with athletes who have been used to great success at every stop in their football careers, and who have come from different teams and cities and cultures before arriving in the CFL, success for others can take a back seat.

"You want the ball and it can definitely get frustrating when you’re not seeing it very often. But I think we do a pretty good job of spreading it around and guys get their couple looks every game," said Weston Dressler, the elder statesman in the group, now in his 11th season. "Everyone in the room understands that when you get those opportunities you got to make them count if you want to get more."

Dressler is second on the Bombers with 309 receiving yards on 27 catches, while Nic Demski leads the Bombers with 28 receptions (for 267 yards) and Drew Wolitarsky has a club-high four touchdowns, despite having just 10 catches for a combined 157 yards.

After trading Adarius Bowman two weeks ago, Kenbrell Thompkins rounds out the starting five receivers, with the former NFLer recording three catches for 81 yards in his CFL debut — a 40-14 win over the Toronto Argonauts in Week 7.

"The one thing that would go across the board is we have intelligent guys that are into learning what we’re trying to do," Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said.

"From a coaching standpoint, it’s taught well, so it’s easy to pick up for the players.

"But they do put the time in to make sure they know what they’re doing and know their positions."

As for the camaraderie brewing among his receivers, O’Shea said that’s simply the expectation for players. That’s not just for the receivers, but the entire team, O’Shea said, and it’s taught on the first day and repeated every week until the goal of winning a Grey Cup is achieved.

"When they come in they better buy in or otherwise they’re probably not going to be around," O’Shea said. "We don’t make it difficult to have guys believe what we believe in. If you’ve got veteran guys that are always trying to help you grow and get better as a young guy… that’s what we want here."

For that veteran leadership, O’Shea leans on players such as Dressler and Adams to make sure everything is running smoothly. It’s that willingness to teach and give time to those willing to learn that has created a bit of freedom for those newer players.

Wolitarsky, in his second season in Winnipeg after being acquired through a supplemental draft in 2017, said he saw the Bombers’ veteran leadership almost immediately as a rookie last year.

Even then, he figured it might take some time to warm up to his new teammates.

Instead, it didn’t take any time at all to feel comfortable with his surroundings, whether that meant speaking up in meetings or identifying something mid-game and sharing it with offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice.

"Selfless would be the best word," said Wolitarsky. "A lot of vets, they could easily come to practice then go home and relax but these guys stick around after practice, watch film. When I came in last year as a young buck who didn’t really know anything, Dressler opened himself up to me and Darvin would give me hints or was there if I had questions about something."

But as important as it’s been for Wolitarsky and others to have such a strong bond among the receivers, it also helps when you have the kind of offensive mind of LaPolice. With LaPolice at the controls, the potential for any player to have a standout game is there.

"The way he moves us around, the way he disguises things… he’s always working and it’s so noticeable to us, especially when we get the plays every week," Wolitarsky said. "That man is always scheming up stuff."

As for the lack of a 100-yard game by a receiver, there is a reason for that, too. The Bombers offence leads the CFL in points scored, averaging 31 points per game. But the success through the air — including being third in the league with 12 passing touchdowns — has been overshadowed by a dominant run game.

Winnipeg is averaging a whopping 161 rushing yards per game — another CFL best — thanks mostly to a torrid start by tailback Andrew Harris, who has a CFL-best 638 rushing yards. Harris also has 27 receptions for 208 yards, making him another legitimate threat through the air.

"Andrew and the big boys up front are running the ball so well that we stick to that more than most teams," Dressler said.

"When we have an opportunity to have a big game, we want to make the most of it and have those big numbers. We feel like those will come the more we’re out there.

"The more that defences try to stop the run, the more opportunities we’ll have downfield."

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

Read full biography

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