November 18, 2017

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Record: 12–6–0

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Blue Bomber Report (12–6–0)

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'We're ready for the moment'

Bombers QB Nichols feels good following return from injury

Matt Nichols is ready to return to action when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers take on the Edmonton Eskimos in the West Division semifinal at Investors Group Field today.

“I feel really good, honestly. I’ve been moving around a lot, and fully prepared to go in and lead this football team,” Nichols said following the Bombers’ final walkthrough Saturday at IGF. “I’m excited to go out there in front of our home crowd. We’ve been preparing for this all season as a team, and we’re ready for the moment.”

Nichols’ status for the game remained a question mark after a calf injury limited him in practice all week. But when the Bombers released their depth chart Saturday for the game, it was Nichols sitting in the No. 1 slot. He spent nearly an hour testing his footwork Saturday morning, and tested his calf further by throwing a variety of passes, a number of them deep down field. The injury is to his left leg, which he uses to plant before releasing the ball.

“Yeah, I’m good to go, for sure. Everyone knew that all week long on our side of it, and we’ve approached it the best way that we saw fit,” Nichols said. “I’ve played a lot of football the last couple of years, and played a lot of football this year, so missing a couple reps here and there is not the biggest thing in the world to me.”

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Matt Nichols is ready to return to action when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers take on the Edmonton Eskimos in the West Division semifinal at Investors Group Field today.

"I feel really good, honestly. I’ve been moving around a lot, and fully prepared to go in and lead this football team," Nichols said following the Bombers’ final walkthrough Saturday at IGF. "I’m excited to go out there in front of our home crowd. We’ve been preparing for this all season as a team, and we’re ready for the moment."

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES
Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols (15) looks for his receivers during the first half of CFL action against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Winnipeg Friday, October 6, 2017. Blue Bombers injured quarterback Matt Nichols says he never doubted he'd be healthy enough to play against the Edmonton Eskimos, but he's amped up his preparations for Sunday's CFL West Division semifinal at home in Winnipeg.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols (15) looks for his receivers during the first half of CFL action against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Winnipeg Friday, October 6, 2017. Blue Bombers injured quarterback Matt Nichols says he never doubted he'd be healthy enough to play against the Edmonton Eskimos, but he's amped up his preparations for Sunday's CFL West Division semifinal at home in Winnipeg.

Nichols’ status for the game remained a question mark after a calf injury limited him in practice all week. But when the Bombers released their depth chart Saturday for the game, it was Nichols sitting in the No. 1 slot. He spent nearly an hour testing his footwork Saturday morning, and tested his calf further by throwing a variety of passes, a number of them deep down field. The injury is to his left leg, which he uses to plant before releasing the ball.

"Yeah, I’m good to go, for sure. Everyone knew that all week long on our side of it, and we’ve approached it the best way that we saw fit," Nichols said. "I’ve played a lot of football the last couple of years, and played a lot of football this year, so missing a couple reps here and there is not the biggest thing in the world to me."

Nichols practised only for a brief time when the Bombers opened the work week Wednesday. His workload increased Thursday, according to the team, because the practice wasn’t open to the public — and because Nichols didn’t finish, he wasn’t made available to media.

He missed Friday’s practice to be with his wife, Ali, for the birth of their second daughter, Parker Winnie Lou Nichols. He did make it late to the workout later Friday, where he was welcomed with congratulatory handshakes and hugs.

"It was definitely a special day and a special moment coming here afterwards," Nichols said. "There are things that are big in life, and I think it kind of calms your nerves a little bit for a game that you can easily put too much pressure on."

Though Nichols didn’t take his usual number of reps with the No. 1 offence, he argued that his work in the meeting room more than made up for it. Every day he arrived before the rest of the team, putting in days that began at 5 a.m. and lasted well into the evening.

"We were just going through the course of action we felt like was best for me, best for the team," Nichols said. "My preparation is extremely mental, and the work I do in the film room, if anything, it might seem like I took less reps to you guys. But I think that I definitely put in more work this week than I have all season."

Nichols suffered the calf injury in a 36-27 home loss to the B.C. Lions in Week 19, and was kept out of the regular-season finale in Calgary against the Stampeders. The Bombers struggled down the stretch, finishing the year losing three of the final five games. The offence, in particular, struggled, unable to put up a touchdown in three of its last four games.

"We don’t care about anything like that," Nichols said. "I care about that I think that we had a great week of preparation. I feel like we have a championship team in this locker room. I feel like we’re going to go out and play well."

The Eskimos are three-point favourites to win the game, despite playing on the road. That likely has to do with the fact Edmonton has won its last five games and is the healthiest it’s been all season. Edmonton also acquired two top-end players midway through the year in defensive end John Chick and running back C.J. Gable.

The Bombers, meanwhile, are without three of their top players in defensive end Jamaal Westerman, strong-side linebacker Maurice Leggett and deep-threat receiver Darvin Adams. They are, however, the only teamEdmonton has yet to beat this season, with Winnipeg earning victories in both games, including the most recent match: a 28-19 road win Sept. 30.

"When we played there, it was really a key moment in the season for us. Had we lost that game, we, honestly, probably would have not had a home playoff game," Nichols said. "When we played that game, we played clean football on offence. We took care of the football. We scored when we got down inside the 10-yard line. We forced a couple turnovers on defence. Didn’t have any big, dumb penalties. It’s all the things that you have to do to beat good football teams."

Noteworthy: Left guard Travis Bond will not play for a third straight game, out with a lower-body injury suffered early in a Week 18 loss in Toronto. Patrick Neufeld will fill in on the offensive line, an option that doesn’t leave much of a drop from Bond, who was named an all-star last season.

Running back Timothy Flanders has also been cleared to play. Flanders created a scare late in Friday’s practice when he collapsed to the ground after taking a light hit from linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox.

— staff

Read more by Jeff Hamilton.

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