If they were gripped with doubt when facing the grim reality of surviving up to six games or more without their No. 1 quarterback, the first-place Blue Bombers hid their anxiety well Monday afternoon.
Winnipeg players were a happy bunch as they returned to the practice field for the first time since veteran signal-caller Matt Nichols left the field with an upper-body injury during a 32-16 victory over the B.C. Lions in Week 10.
Head coach Mike O’Shea said Nichols, who has guided the club to top spot in the CFL’s West Division with a 7-2 record, would go on the club’s six-game injured list.
The Blue Bombers face the Eskimos in Edmonton Friday night and have three games against the Saskatchewan Roughriders and one each against the Montreal Alouettes and Hamilton Tiger-Cats during that span.
O’Shea said Nichols, who did not require surgery, will be re-evaluated in four to six weeks but sophomore Chris Streveler will assume command of the Winnipeg offence in his absence.
O’Shea gave the 24-year-old Streveler a full vote of confidence.
"I expect him to go out there and win a football game — he’s quite capable," said O’Shea, referring to Friday’s tussle with the 6-3 Esks. "We give him a lot of snaps in games because he’s a good quarterback. He’s proven that, you know. He stepped in as a raw rookie and played three games right off the hop and acquitted himself quite well, so we like our guys."
As a rookie in 2018, Streveler became the first quarterback to start a CFL game coming directly out of college since 1994, when future Hall of Famer Anthony Calvillo started for the Las Vegas Posse.
He went on to start three games for Winnipeg, posting a 1-2 record but showed well in each of the starts, particularly during a blowout win over the Alouettes in Montreal. Streveler’s running ability will be key to Winnipeg’s ability to ride out Nichols’ absence.
"He has the ability to just do more with his legs," said all-star linebacker Adam Bighill. "He’s really, essentially, a running back who can throw the ball really well and make great decisions, so he expands the playbook at any point in time and any situation on the field: backed up, second and short, third and long.
"Whatever the situation is, he expands what the playbook can do, so when you’re playing quarterback like that it makes it a little bit tougher because you know you have to be able to play a QB draw or different things with the quarterback scrambling, using his legs."
The club expects to add a third quarterback to the active roster.
O’Shea confirmed the club had spoken to 40-year-old veteran free-agent Kevin Glenn, among others. Glenn told the club he wasn’t interested and will remain retired but the Free Press has learned free-agent QBs Drew Willy and Brandon Bridge have both been contacted.
Streveler, who has completed nine of 16 passes for 82 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in spot duty this season, was asked about his mindset.
"Feeling good, you know," said Steveler, who also has 176 yards on 39 carries in 2019 after pilling up 441 rushing yards on 77 carries in 2018. "Day 1 out there and had a good day. Just gotta clean some stuff up and continue Day 2 tomorrow. It feels good to be out there."
Streveler admitted his confidence level is exponentially higher now than when he was thrust into the starting role as a newcomer fresh out of the University of South Dakota.
"I think there’s definitely a lot more comfort there," he said. "Not only starting some games last year, but I’ve played in every game since I’ve been here, so all those experiences, in camp this year, every rep you get in practice, you continue to learn from that and grow... I think compared to my first couple of games last season, I would feel like I have a lot more experience and feel better about that."
Nichols, 32, attended Monday’s workout and exhibited no obvious signs he was injured. O’Shea said he will continue to lean on his leadership abilities.
"Matt’s got a huge role and that role, it doesn’t change," said O’Shea. "It’s the same role he’s had in the past. When he’s starting he has a role, too, we call it ‘Learn best by teaching,’ right? So his role doesn’t change whether he’s on the field or not."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
Updated on Tuesday, August 20, 2019 at 12:15 AM CDT: Updates to final version