October 19, 2019

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Unknown quantity: Bombers rookie backup quarterback 'just gonna be ready'

Alex Ross has limited playing time, going five for 12 for 82 yards

Of the six former B.C. Lions on Winnipeg's training camp roster, quarterback Alex Ross is probably the biggest unknown.

But his debut for the Blue Bombers, which is expected to come at some point in Friday's pre-season game against the visiting Edmonton Eskimos, could be the most closely scrutinized.

The 25-year-old from Alpharetta, Ga., has only one CFL season on his resumé and he played sparingly for the Lions in 2017, completing five of 12 passes for 82 yards in four appearances, yet he is expected to be the club's No. 2 quarterback behind starter Matt Nichols when the regular season kicks off on June 14 against the Eskimos.

Ross's limited experience still exceeds the total amount of regular-season action for rookie quarterbacks Chris Streveler, Zack Mahoney and Bryan Bennett, which is zero. Bennett is dealing with an undislosed injury and has not yet been cleared to practise.

Of the six former B.C. Lions on Winnipeg's training camp roster, quarterback Alex Ross is probably the biggest unknown.

But his debut for the Blue Bombers, which is expected to come at some point in Friday's pre-season game against the visiting Edmonton Eskimos, could be the most closely scrutinized.

The 25-year-old from Alpharetta, Ga., has only one CFL season on his resumé and he played sparingly for the Lions in 2017, completing five of 12 passes for 82 yards in four appearances, yet he is expected to be the club's No. 2 quarterback behind starter Matt Nichols when the regular season kicks off on June 14 against the  Eskimos.

Ross's limited experience still exceeds the total amount of regular-season action for rookie quarterbacks Chris Streveler, Zack Mahoney and Bryan Bennett, which is zero. Bennett is dealing with an undislosed injury and has not yet been cleared to practise. 

'With this offence I'd say my comfort level is getting very comfortable with the game compared to this time last year' - backup quarterback Alex Ross

What about playing time?

"I haven't heard much yet," said Ross following Day 10 of training camp at Investors Group Field Tuesday. "I don't know exactly what the plan is. I'm just gonna be ready when my number's called."

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS - Bomber Tristan Okpalaugo (54) closes in on quarterback Alex Ross (18) at a team workout Monday. </p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS - Bomber Tristan Okpalaugo (54) closes in on quarterback Alex Ross (18) at a team workout Monday.

While Nichols could get the start Friday, Ross should get his chance after emersing himself in the playbook for most of the last six weeks and spending mini-camp and rookie camp in Winnipeg since signing with the Blue Bombers.

"It's always good to get in there and in the fire," said Ross. "See things against another team. We've been out here competing against our team all of camp so it'll be nice to see some other jerseys...

"With this offence I'd say my comfort level is getting very comfortable with the game compared to this time last year — my first year in the CFL. It's just easier to see things when the defence is lining up and bringing certain blitzes and playing certain converages. It's just easier to see now than it was last year."

Offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice's intricate scheme, Ross said, is more complex than what was employed in B.C.

"There's a lot more moving parts to this offence than then there were in B.C.," said Ross. "And it definitely helps with reading the coverages and seeing what the guys are playing. Whether they're in man or zone. So, when there's a lot of movement like that it causes the defence to sometimes get flustered, because they've gotta communicate.

"If you're not communicating and the offence is moving around, there's going to be some times where there's dropped coverages and open receivers."

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS - Bomber quarterback Alex Ross.</p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS - Bomber quarterback Alex Ross.


Head coach Mike O'Shea was pleased with how Ross has performed.

"He’s obviously picked up the playbook," said O'Shea. "He showed that he can run through the progressions of a play and process those decisions. Looks athletic, arm is strong. Once again, I think with quarterbacks and I think with most guys, you really want to see them in game action. Everything’s looking good right now."

Ross' importance is heightened by his involvement as a holder for placekicker Justin Medlock. Medlock communicated with Ross before training camp and the all-star kicker was sure to provide him with instructional videos before they ever got to the practice field.

"(I've been) working with Meddy a lot and trying to tune up with what he likes, because every kicker's a little bit different," said Ross. "... He's a very detailed guy and that's good to have. That's why he is one of the best." 


The 31-year-old Nichols, meanwhile, is starting his sixth season in the CFL and his third as Winnipeg's full-time starter. On Tuesday, he hinted he would need about two quarters of playing time to be properly prepared for the regular season.

"We've kinda talked about the amount of quarters I feel like I wanna get during the pre-season but I don't know how it's going to play out yet," said Nichols. "I think a lot of you guys know me enough now that I'll love to play both games full through but obviously, that's not the way you handle it."

Nichols believes nothing can prepare a quarterback for the regular season like game action can.

"I feel like I can throw the ball 55 yards in practice and 65 in a game," said Nichols. "That's kinda how much more juice you get. So, going out there and feeling that adrenalin a little bit while you're throwing. You want to get used to that." 

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

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

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