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This article was published 12/6/2017 (1436 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Sometimes the grind of a CFL training camp needs only a little spark to turn a routine workout into a donnybrook.
On Monday, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had such such a day. The trigger, coming during 12-on-12 drills, appeared to be a hit by offensive lineman Manase Foketi on safety Taylor Loffler, which set off a wild scene with a number of players thrashing around in a dangerous-looking scrum. Eventually, even head coach Mike O’Shea ventured into the fray, pulling O-lineman Jermarcus Hardrick out of the pack.
A few minutes later, cornerback Brandon Alexander made an aggressive attempt to strip the ball away from veteran slotback Weston Dressler. Dressler was able to hold onto the ball but took a tumble to the turf before leaping up to voice his displeasure with Alexander’s tactics.
Cooler heads eventually prevailed and after practice there was no hint of any lingering bitterness.
"It picked up, didn’t it?" backup quarterback Dan LeFevour joked. "It was fun. I think it’s time to break and play some other teams more often. You can’t tell. It’s Day 13, I think, going against each other. The defence had a good day and, you know, things were getting a little chippy at the end, that’s for sure."
Rookie defensive tackle Faith Ekakitie appreciated the change of pace.
"It’s great, you need days like that," Ekakitie said. "I mean, we’re all grown men out here. We all have emotions, sometimes tempers flare, but at the end of the day, we’re all still teammates. We all care about each other and we all take care of each other."
O’Shea had seen it all before, many times.
"It was a spirited practice," O’Shea said. "I think as a group, we probably needed that. We probably don’t need all the shenanigans but it was high-intensity work...
"When you run a competitive practice, it doesn’t always go well, you know, for somebody. Somebody is winning and somebody is losing, right? Each guy competes with the man across from him, so there’s always someone who’s a little frustrated or whatever, so that’s what happens. It reached a little boiling point today but that’s OK."
"Yeah, it’s football," LeFevour added. "You’re getting paid to play, it’s competitive. These are guys’ livelihoods. And people love to play the game. You don’t make it to this level if you’re not passionate about the sport, so it’s very common."
Jeffcoat shines in debut
Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat put on a solid display in his first CFL game, collecting three tackles, a sack and a forced fumble in Saturday’s 25-25 pre-season tie with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The 25-year-old, who had a two-year stay with the Washington Redskins before a failed tryout with the Cleveland Browns in 2016, was relieved to get back on the field.
"I was excited to get out there and play," Jeffcoat said. "It’s been a year and a half since I’ve actually played in a game. I’m happy with what I did but I know I can get better. I watched the film, I knows there’s a lot of things I didn’t like...
"I just feel like the effort could’ve been better.."
Fogg rolls in
Veteran defensive back Kevin Fogg and wide receiver T.J. Thorpe returned to the practice field Monday after missing a big chunk of camp with injuries.
"Yes, it was difficult but at the same time I was able to stay fine and tuned, help the guys, help the younger guys," Fogg said.
Said O’Shea: "He stepped right in and practised with some fire, which he usually brings. He’s all smiles when he’s around you (media) guys, I’m sure, but on the field he’s got a bit of a scowl to him, which is nice."
Fogg displayed considerable skill as a kick returner last season and had plenty of sympathy for Ryan Lankford, a second-year import wide receiver who had a 70-yard punt-return touchdown wiped out Saturday due to a penalty. L’Damian Washington was lined up offside on the play.
"It was hurtful to see that," said Fogg, who had four return TDs erased by penalties in 2016. " I thought that we at least had one but it was the pre-season, (of) course so it wouldn’t have counted. But as soon as I found him, soon as I saw him, I had to give him a hug. It was good, though."
Lankford, meanwhile, finished the game with four catches for 47 yards, including an 18-yard TD reception on a throw from LeFevour.
Blue axe 11
Eleven import hopefuls, including rookie quarterback Austin Apodaca, were released Monday by the Blue Bombers.
Apodaca’s departure leaves Winnipeg with only three QBs on its training camp roster, including incumbent No. 1 Matt Nichols and veteran backups Dominique Davis and LeFevour. All four saw duty in Winnipeg’s 25-25 pre-season tie with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina Saturday night.
O’Shea was asked if the club has any plans to add a fourth quarterback.
"Not right now," O’Shea said.
"I know we’re talking about it a little bit but I think with the way the roster’s going to shape up, this is how it had to be for right now. I think we’re always going to look at the possibility if we find a guy we like and want to develop and is available, we would bring that guy in."
Also cut loose were receivers Darrin Peterson, TJ Lowder, Quinshad Davis and Larry Raper, offensive lineman Kodi Kieler, defensive linemen Lawrence Virgil and Caleb Bostic, linebacker George Stone and defensive backs Terrence Frederick and Tahaan Goodman.
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Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.