It’s time to square off with the cold, hard truth: no matter who starts under centre on Thursday night for the Blue Bombers, it’s not going to be optimal, or ideal; yet this team may have the talent and ability to adjust and still win football games, even while it waits for its franchise quarterback to mend.
Whether it’s Alex Ross (currently my vote), Chris Streveler (my vote last week) or Bryan Bennett (probably going to be my vote next week), who starts off the 2018 CFL season, this offence isn’t going to run like it should, or used to.
It’s going to be similar to when you put low-octane fuel into a high-performance car: there is going to be pinging, some knocking, less horsepower and generally less overall performance.
It’s not what the engine wants, but it doesn’t mean the car won’t work and can’t get you from A to B. You just have to ask different things of it. No more drag racing from light to light with Mike Reilly; it’s time to start thinking more along the lines of carpooling, driving responsibly and economically, and most importantly, driving defensively.
The defence, as we know it, should be inspired by the circumstances it currently finds itself in. Not only does this group appear to be more talented than anything to take the field in recent years — especially when the backups held the B.C. Lions’ starters to six points in the first half of Friday’s game — but it is going to be counted on to do the heavy lifting for the next four to six weeks, especially if the Bombers don’t want to have to dig themselves out of a crater-sized hole over the season’s last three months.
To me, it doesn’t really matter who starts under centre the first third of the season.
The candidates are virtually all rookies; they are all relatively inexperienced and they are all going to make table-flipping and hair-pulling mistakes. What does matter is whether the defence and, to a degree, the special teams decide to step up and cover up for their downed quarterback and this now-vulnerable phase of the football team.
The Bombers have the defensive line to do it. Constant, unrelenting pressure should not be a problem with this rotation — and with Drake Nevis, Cory Johnson, Adam Bighill and Taylor Loffler down the middle, if you want to waste your time trying to run between the tackles or threaten the middle of the field, be my guest.
Over the past eight quarters, we haven’t seen the kinds of breakdown we saw last season in the back end. With the injection of new, accountable on-field leadership and the black hole in the middle of the defence finally filled, this crew should be able to elevate its play to dominant-level status.
The identity of this football team the past couple of successful years always has been to protect the football and take it away. Sooner or later, the Bombers are going to have to threaten teams downfield, because most defences this team will face will try to take away the run and short-passing game, and force the new pivots to beat them over the top.
One of the best things about Matt Nichols was what he didn’t do — he never forced the ball downfield. If it wasn’t there, he rarely ever pressed, and instead lived to play another down, another series.
You don’t have to be a five-year pro to take care of the football, and eat it, versus throwing it up for grabs and throwing caution to the wind. You just have to play conservatively, smartly and cautiously.
If this defence is sufficiently inspired and motivated to step up and take ownership of this next string of games — especially with the talent and leadership it now has — a giant, defining moment of adversity could end up being much more manageable down the stretch.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears weekly in the Free Press.
Doug Brown, always a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.
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RUSH ARushing yards against
PASS APassing yards against
YARDS ANet yards against
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Updated on Monday, June 11, 2018 at 1:37 PM CDT: adds byline
June 12, 2018 at 7:49 AM: Corrects name