June 19, 2018

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Sponge soaks up knowledge

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Blue Bombers quarterback Chris Streveler practices at Investors Group Field. Winnipeg coaches feel that the first-year player deserves a shot at cracking the starting lineup after regular starting quarterback Matt Nichols was knocked out of the lineup for 4-6 weeks due to injury.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Blue Bombers quarterback Chris Streveler practices at Investors Group Field. Winnipeg coaches feel that the first-year player deserves a shot at cracking the starting lineup after regular starting quarterback Matt Nichols was knocked out of the lineup for 4-6 weeks due to injury.

He may be young and inexperienced, but the men guiding quarterback Chris Streveler’s path from a raw rookie to a starting role in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ — and CFL’s — season-opener Thursday night are unanimous: the 23-year-old University of South Dakota grad deserves his shot.

“He earned the right from Day 1 of training camp all the way till last week’s evaluation,” offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice said after the team practised Tuesday. “We’ve been charting everything they do... he’s had a good camp.”

Unusual circumstances have fast-tracked Streveler to the top for Thursday’s tilt with the Edmonton Eskimos at Investors Group Field (7:30 p.m., TSN, CJOB).

First, Darian Durant, the club’s presumed No. 2 man and a major off-season free-agent signing, bailed on the Bombers before training camp. Winnipeg’s QB woes were compounded last week when No. 1 signal-caller Matt Nichols suffered a knee injury in practice that will keep him out of action a minimum of four weeks.

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He may be young and inexperienced, but the men guiding quarterback Chris Streveler’s path from a raw rookie to a starting role in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ — and CFL’s — season-opener Thursday night are unanimous: the 23-year-old University of South Dakota grad deserves his shot.

"He earned the right from Day 1 of training camp all the way till last week’s evaluation," offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice said after the team practised Tuesday. "We’ve been charting everything they do... he’s had a good camp."

Unusual circumstances have fast-tracked Streveler to the top for Thursday’s tilt with the Edmonton Eskimos at Investors Group Field (7:30 p.m., TSN, CJOB).

First, Darian Durant, the club’s presumed No. 2 man and a major off-season free-agent signing, bailed on the Bombers before training camp. Winnipeg’s QB woes were compounded last week when No. 1 signal-caller Matt Nichols suffered a knee injury in practice that will keep him out of action a minimum of four weeks.

Enter Streveler, who beat out Alex Ross and Bryan Bennett for the top job. He is the first rookie quarterback to step into a CFL starting role in Week 1 since Anthony Calvillo led the Las Vegas Posse in 1994.

"It’s a crazy scenario," said LaPolice, who took a keen interest in Streveler during his record-shattering senior season at South Dakota in 2017. "He’s been a successful kid. I don’t know what his mindset is. All I know is he’s come in every day and he’s not overwhelmed by things. He takes it one day at a time. He’s always doing his studying."

And the praise didn’t stop there.

"He’s a very poised individual," quarterbacks coach Buck Pierce said. "He’s got the leadership qualities you look for... He’s been here two months but it’s training camp for two months. He’s been involved in every meeting, everything that we do and he’s gotten a lot of reps. He was taking No. 2 reps all camp... And he’s impressed with those reps."

Head coach Mike O’Shea told Streveler he was starting Monday morning.

"I’m excited," said Streveler. "It’s a great opportunity and great opportunity for our team to go out and show all the work we’ve been putting in camp. Quarterback is just a small part of what we’ve got going on here."

Streveler, whose parents will witness his pro debut in person, insisted he won’t be expected to play more conservatively than a veteran. Filling the shoes of a proven star such as Nichols isn’t easy, however.

"I’m not going to be able to replace what he means to this team as a leader or the player that he is," said Streveler. "I mean, he’s been in this league for a long time and I’m really thankful to have been able to learn from him for the short period of time I’ve been here. I’m not going to be able to replace that but hopefully just fill in and do as well as I can."

LaPolice said it has been business as usual for his offence.

"The message to Chris all week has been no different than Matt Nichols gets," LaPolice said. "We make good decisions with the football. Where there’s opportunities to take shots downfield we take them and operate our offence. He doesn’t have to play above himself. Our players don’t have to play more because we have a guy who doesn’t have a lot of starts under his belt. He just has to play the game we call for him and make good decisions."

In his short time with the Blue Bombers, Streveler has impressed the coaching staff with his level head under pressure and study habits.

"He’s got multiple college degrees," LaPolice said. "He can hear it once and regurgitate (it) to the players. There’s just an air of confidence about him."

And his above-average running ability is not something the Blue Bombers are counting heavily upon.

"He runs fast for a quarterback and I think when he gets going he can move a little bit," LaPolice said. "But that’s not what the game’s about. This is a throw-the-football league, right? We throw it 70 per cent of the time, so that’s what he’s gotta work on."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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History

Updated on Wednesday, June 13, 2018 at 9:17 AM CDT: Final

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