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SASHA SEFTER / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Blue Bombers wide receiver Kenny Lawler catches a pass during a practice at the University of Manitoba East Turf Field on Thursday.</p>

SASHA SEFTER / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Blue Bombers wide receiver Kenny Lawler catches a pass during a practice at the University of Manitoba East Turf Field on Thursday.

You won’t find any Kenny Lawler jerseys hanging up at the Bomber Store. Nor will you see the Winnipeg Blue Bombers using Lawler in any of their promotional materials, whether it be a banner hung at IG Field, a billboard somewhere around town or even an Instagram post from the club’s account.

That’s because Lawler wasn’t expected to be a key weapon on offence this year. After all, the wide receiver spent last season on the Bombers’ practice roster. He also didn’t get much of a chance to show his skills at the professional level south of the border. He was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL draft before spending parts of two seasons on their practice squad.

Recently released receiver Chris Matthews, on the other hand, was nearly a Super Bowl MVP with Seattle before returning to Winnipeg — where he originally made a name for himself in 2012 when he was named the CFL’s top rookie — this year with big-time expectations after signing a three-year deal with the Bombers in May.

But despite all the impressive accolades and hype surrounding Matthews, the Bombers have opted to roll with Lawler moving forward instead.

Matthews was released on Wednesday, which was two days before his contract would have been fully guaranteed. It’s a move the Bombers may have been reluctant to make if they didn’t believe in Lawler’s abilities.

<p>Lawler was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL draft before spending parts of two seasons on their practice squad.</p>

SASHA SEFTER / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Lawler was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL draft before spending parts of two seasons on their practice squad.

In eight games this season, Lawler has hauled in 16 passes for 263 yards and a touchdown. As for Matthews, who battled injuries this season but has also been a healthy scratch in favour of Lawler at times, he had a disappointing 12 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown. Throw in the fact Lawler, 25, is five years younger and likely makes the league minimum salary of $54,000 compared to Matthews’ hefty price tag of $107,000, and the decision to go with the younger option was probably easier than many people would think.

Whatever the reason was for Matthews being shown the door, clearly, it shows the Blue and Gold have a lot of faith in Lawler. Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea proved that to be true when he spoke to the media after Thursday’s practice.

"You know, the initial conversations about Kenny when he first came in last year during (practice roster) expansion was some of the unreal catches he was making in the post-practice work they were doing," O’Shea said.

"He was tremendous in the one-on-ones. I think this year, besides how sticky his hands are, he looked like he showed up stronger and faster. I think the other thing he’s worked on is the mental side of it and the pro aspect of it. He’s done a really good job of developing into a real trustworthy player that’s going to be right. And I know the quarterbacks like that."

Lawler said it wasn’t a concern to him on who the team would start on game days between the two players. But with Matthews no longer an option, it’s now Lawler’s job to lose.

"I’m never looking over my shoulder. I’m always just going with whatever the team feels like," said Lawler, who played college football for the California Golden Bears.

"If Chris was to stay and I was to be down, that’s what it was going to be. Obviously, they came to releasing my man, but like I said, it’s just a business thing. And I don’t think much of it. I guess they know what they’re doing upstairs and that’s where we’re going. We still gotta focus on (the) Saskatchewan (Roughriders) today. I have all the love and respect for my man and I know he’s going to bounce back and do his thing and that’s what it is."

Last week in Edmonton, Lawler didn’t get a chance to showcase why the team likes him so much. He was only targeted once by quarterback Chris Streveler, who finished the game completing seven passes for 89 yards in Winnipeg’s 34-28 victory over the Eskimos. According to Lawler, that’s fine by him.

"No frustration at all because we won the game. When we win the game, you can’t be nothing but happy," Lawler said.

"Sometimes people feel like we should’ve done this and sometimes some people feel like they should have caught the ball, but you know, if we throw seven passes and win the game I’m cool with it because I know I’m doing my thing on the ground. I’m blocking, I know my teammates are blocking and it was a rainy game, so if that’s what we got to do to win the game, that’s what we got to do to win. As long as we get one more point and a W in our record, that’s all that matters."

Whether he’s blocking or receiving, Lawler is looking forward to his first Labour Day experience this weekend as the Bombers head to Mosaic Stadium to take on the 6-3 Roughriders on Sunday.

"I’m pretty excited about going in there. I love high-intensity-atmosphere games, you know, loud crowds," Lawler said.

"I feel like that lifts me up, pumps me up and it just makes me that much more ready to go. Especially going to a hostile environment and taking the energy out of the crowd, that’s what excites me the most."

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen
Reporter

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.

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