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This article was published 25/7/2016 (1727 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It will be baptism by fire Thursday for two members of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ secondary.
With cornerback Chris Randle, safety Macho Harris and halfback Julian Posey all ruled out for the game against the Edmonton Eskimos (2-2) at Commonwealth Stadium, the 1-4 Bombers have dipped into the cupboards, replacing a large chunk of their injured veteran core with a much younger and inexperienced group.
"I don’t think anybody in that room is shocked when they get tapped on the shoulder," said head coach Mike O’Shea after Monday’s practice at Investors Group Field. "I think they expect it and I think they prepare like it."
If two practices this week are any indication, shoulder taps will likely be given to non-import Taylor Loffler, 22, the Bombers’ third-round pick — 19th overall — in May’s CFL Draft, and 26-year-old import Terrence Frederick, both of whom would be making their first CFL start.
Loffler, who split his college football between UBC and Boise State, has taken most of the first-team reps at safety this week. He’s already seen limited action at the position, having taken over after Harris went down late in the first half in the 33-18 loss to the Calgary Stampeders last week.
"He’s got more of a presence than you would expect. To me, he’s not your average rookie," said O’Shea, adding he liked what he saw against Calgary. "Is it a big ask? No, I don’t think so."
Frederick, a seventh-round selection in 2012 by the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL, will fill in for Randle at cornerback. The native of Katy, Texas, was signed to a contract last month. Like most Americans getting their first taste of CFL football, there’s been an adjustment period. But after weeks of being on the practice roster, he feels ready to contribute.
"I like to be everywhere," said Frederick, who started three games for the New Orleans Saints in 2014, when asked what he brings to the secondary. "I’m going to do whatever they ask me to do."
The Bombers dodged a bit of a bullet, as Bruce Johnson is expected to return to his regular position at halfback opposite Kevin Fogg, which should soften the loss of Posey. Though Johnson figures to be a bit rusty after missing the last three games with an injured right hand, having already played two seasons with the Bombers makes him one of the most experienced players in the group — a leader among a core rounded out by C.J. Roberts, who with regular Johnny Adams still nursing an injury from training camp, will make his third consecutive start at the boundary corner position.
"These guys are here because they want to play," said Johnson. "This is their chance to play, so they just have to step up and prove they can."
If Loffler and Frederick do get the call, it will be a steep first test. The Eskimos’ offence, led by last year’s Grey Cup MVP, quarterback Mike Reilly, have already feasted once on the Bombers’ secondary this season.
In a 20-16 win at Investors Group Field in Week 4, Reilly put up 501 yards of net offence — 465 yards through the air — and threw for three touchdowns. Adarius Bowman and Derel Walker both eclipsed 150 yards receiving, combining for 339 yards and two touchdowns. All of it came against most of the Bombers’ starters.
"The longer he holds the ball, the better off he’s going to be able to pick apart the defence," said Fogg of Reilly. "You see it week in and week out, when he gets comfortable he’s good."
Whether Reilly is comfortable won’t fall just on the secondary. That task belongs to a Bombers’ defensive line that has been, for the most part, unable to get to the quarterback this season. The Bombers have just seven sacks through the first five weeks, four of which came in a Week 3 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
"You always want to make the quarterback uncomfortable. That’s our job," said defensive end Jamaal Westerman. "But we don’t feel any added pressure, even with the injuries on defence. The guys that are back there, we have confidence in them."
It doesn’t help that the Eskimos will surely reeling from last week’s loss to Hamilton in a game they blew a 25-point lead in the second half. Asked if that was just another obstacle his team would have to overcome, O’Shea downplayed the Esks’ loss as extra motivation for the defending champions.
"I don’t think players talk in headlines," said O’Shea. "Typically, we worry about what we do and we’re not really worried about what’s going on over there."
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.