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This article was published 1/10/2019 (391 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Of the many hits the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have taken this year, this one hurts the most.
It’s been less than two months since Matt Nichols was driven into the IG Field turf by B.C. Lions defensive end Shawn Lemon in Week 10. Nichols, the Bombers’ No. 1 quarterback, tried his best to limit the damage by using his right arm to brace the fall. It’s a move that likely backfired and probably aided in the damage his throwing shoulder incurred, an injury that has now ended his season.
Facing reporters for the first time since news broke late last week that he had undergone surgery, Nichols said he’s seen the hit only once on replay. He didn’t take any issue with it, claiming Lemon was just doing his job. Problem is, Nichols is now unable to do his, though he did say doctors expect him to make a full recovery and be ready for next season.
"My arm was just kind of in a normal position and I landed perfectly wrong on it. It was one of those things that were unavoidable. It's just another little roadblock and something I'll recover from and be better for it," Nichols, his arm snugged into a padded brace, said.
"I’m going to attack the rehab just like I have in the past and I’m going to be ready to go for next season, no problem. It’s just unfortunate I’m not able to end the season. I felt like I had a real good season going and would have liked to finish."
Nichols has seen this movie before, suffering significant injuries the last two seasons. In 2017, he worked through a broken thumb and calf strain. Last season, it was a knee injury that had him visiting team trainers nearly every day.
“I’m going to attack the rehab just like I have in the past and I’m going to be ready to go for next season, no problem. It’s just unfortunate I’m not able to end the season. I felt like I had a real good season going and would have liked to finish.” — Matt Nichols
What’s different is Nichols missed just four games between those other injuries, bouncing back thanks to an intense rehab regimen and a seemingly supernatural ability to heal. This time, Nichols won’t be back.
"I had a point where I could kind of feel it wasn’t progressing the way we needed it to and it was a joint decision that everything was done the proper way," the Bombers pivot said.
"It was just one of those things that was up in the air of whether I was going to be able to return or not. I’ve had situations in the past where I’ve had a similar situation and came back and played no problem. This is just something where it wasn’t going to work this time."
With Nichols out, the hope the Bombers can snap a Grey Cup drought currently at 28 years now rests in the hands of backup Chris Streveler. Streveler has started the last five games in relief of Nichols, garnering mixed results. He’s 2-3 over that span, with much of his success behind centre coming as a run-first quarterback.
“Since he’s taken over he’s been improving. He’s making better-quality throws, while still being able to run the ball and provide that spark through the run game. What we’re encouraged about is he’s making more, better throws.” — Bombers GM Kyle Walters on Chris Streveler
The 24-year-old product of Crystal Lake, Ill., is averaging just 184 passing yards per game as a starter, with five touchdowns and five interceptions. On the ground, he’s averaged 74 rushing yards per game and has found the end zone with his feet seven times.
While many have doubted Streveler as a viable backup plan, Bombers general manager Kyle Walters, in an interview with the Free Press, said he likes what he’s seen and expects Streveler to get better with time.
"While Matt was playing, we all saw the excitement that (Streveler) brought, the intensity that he played with. Most of that, while Matt was healthy, was through the running game," Walters said. "There was the occasional pass he got to throw but it was pretty minimal body of work as far as throwing the football."
Walters added: "Since he’s taken over he’s been improving. He’s making better-quality throws, while still being able to run the ball and provide that spark through the run game. What we’re encouraged about is he’s making more, better throws."
Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea raised some eyebrows last week when he said on a local radio program ahead of Friday’s 33-13 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats that the Bombers wouldn’t be looking to add a veteran quarterback. It was an odd statement, even if it could be seen as a vote of confidence for Streveler, as well as for Sean McGuire and Trevor Knight, the No. 2 and No. 3 quarterbacks, respectively.
“Obviously, we explore all options. We reached out to three quarterbacks with CFL experience and none of them had interest. It did not work out. It wasn’t even close to working out.” — Bombers GM Kyle Walters
Of the three, only Streveler has thrown a pass in a CFL regular-season game, let alone made a start, which Streveler has just nine of over two years of service. Given the lack of experience at the game’s most important position, it seemed obvious that Walters would look for a better backup plan if Streveler were to go down.
According to the Bombers GM, they did.
"Obviously, we explore all options. We reached out to three quarterbacks with CFL experience and none of them had interest," Walters said. "It did not work out. It wasn’t even close to working out."
Walters approached veteran Kevin Glenn, who had retired from the game just months before, and then Drew Willy, a former Bomber who lost his job to Nichols and was later traded to the Toronto Argonauts. It’s unclear who the third quarterback was but reports have suggested it was Travis Lulay, another pivot who stepped away from the game last year.
Posted: 01/10/2019 10:38 PM
A Q&A with Winnipeg Blue Bombers general manager Kyle Walters:
Free Press: 9-5 is a good record through 14 games. But your team has lost three of its last four games and is 4-5 in the last nine. What do you make of the current state of the club?
"Then you look at other rosters and the opportunity for if there is a trade option. If you’re going to make a trade, particularly at the quarterback position, the price is going to be extremely high for that. Especially when you’re reaching out, rightfully or wrong, you’re viewed as desperate and if in a trade you’re viewed as desperate then the opponent is going to ask for way more than fair-market value," Walters said. "So, if you’re going to make a trade for a quarterback you need to be prepared to pay way more than fair-market value and if you’re going to do that you better be damn sure the player you’re bringing in is going to be a significant upgrade."
Walters said that after meeting with the front office staff, including his assistant managers and coaches, the consensus was that no player available on another team was worth the risk. He said given who they thought was available, it seemed too much to ask for someone to come in and learn a new system over the next five weeks and be better than Streveler.
"I think that’s unrealistic to think that could happen, let alone mortgaging the future through draft picks or potentially good young players," he said. "It’s just not reasonable to do something for the sake of doing something."
Walters agreed with O’Shea that Streveler was capable of leading the Bombers to a championship.
"Of course we are," he said. "It’s his second year on the team. He won the backup job and the team fully believes that we can win football games from Chris Streveler."
To help support his argument, Walters pointed to the Bombers’ five losses this season and how three of those games were decided on game-winning drives in the final minute. Two of those — a 19-17 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Week 12 and a 38-37 defeat against the Montreal Alouettes two weeks later — were with Streveler at the helm.
"If those two games go our way and we’re sitting here at 11-3, I don’t know if there’s any talk about quarterback issues or what’s the quarterback plan," he said. "Unfortunately, as a team we didn’t pull those two games out and now we’re sitting at 9-5, but to point any sort of criticism at one position over another is not fair, particularly to Chris."
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.
Updated on Tuesday, October 1, 2019 at 10:01 PM CDT: Fixes typo
11:11 PM: Adds related story.
October 2, 2019 at 11:28 PM: Fixes typo in photo caption
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