The Blue Bombers came up with their most dominant defensive performance of the season, despite the absence of their best defender, during last week’s win in Ottawa.
Middle linebacker Adam Bighill hasn’t practised this week, but was listed on the depth chart for tonight’s Week 5 game against the visiting Toronto Argonauts. Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea said Bighill’s availability will be a game-time decision.
"Coach has been great with allowing me to have some say in how I feel and, at the end of the day, also... I understand if he says I feel comfortable with you not playing," Bighill said after Thursday’s walkthrough at IG Field. "I’m going to prepare like I’m going to play.
"Even though I haven’t practised, I’ve gone through a rehab protocol and I’ve been levelling up through that and feel comfortable I can do everything I want to do. It’s just, am I going to get a green light? A lot depends on how I feel tomorrow, too."
Bighill, the CFL’s reigning most outstanding defensive player, has been a spectator at practice since suffering a hamstring injury on July 1.
On the face of it, 3-0 Winnipegshould be secure enough to be able to sit Bighill for another week with the winless Argos coming to town.
Winnipeg’s defence put the hammer down on the Redblacks, limiting a previously productive offence to 14 first downs, 236 net yards and a mere 24 rushing yards in a 29-14 triumph.
All this coming after veteran weakside linebacker Kyrie Wilson slid over to take Bighill’s regular spot, with veteran Canadian backup Jesse Briggs filling the other vacancy.
"They did a great job," Bighill said. "I mean, we played a pretty solid team game, in general. Offence, defence and special teams. Controlling field position, controlling, obviously, the clock with offence and time of possession. Defensively, getting them off the field, two-and-outs, turnovers, all that kind of stuff. They did a great job."
Toronto starting quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson understands what he’s up against, with or without Bighill on the field.
"Obviously, he’s a great player. But in terms of game-planning, we don’t game-plan for one player," Bethel-Thompson said. "You’ve gotta play against all 12. Whether he plays or not, we don’t change our whole offence based on him. But he’s definitely a good player and a force, so you have to know when he’s on the field and where he’s at, because they do put him in a lot of multiple spots."
Argos head coach Corey Chamblin has witnessed and respects the progression of Winnipeg’s defence since O’Shea’s first season at the helm in 2014.
"They’ve done a good job of evolving this system where they’re getting to the ball, they run to the ball, fundamentals of defence and they’re doing the things that need be," Chamblin said. "Bighill’s a different-type player. He’s a marquee player in this league, but they’re still doing it good enough to complement the offence well enough to win football games."
The five-time CFL all-star did not need to practise in order for O’Shea to see him as a viable option for Week 5.
"You’ve heard me say, probably 100 times now — and it’s different for every guy — but guys with this much experience don’t need to practise," O’Shea said. "They know what they’re doing. They’re attending the meetings. In fact, they’re still a part of everything, taking their leadership role. So they don’t miss a beat when they get out there."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.