Perhaps it’s fitting that Buck Pierce’s debut as an offensive co-ordinator will come against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Sixteen years ago, Pierce was the third-string quarterback for the B.C. Lions behind Dave Dickenson and Casey Printers and made his first CFL appearance on Aug. 19, 2005, towards the end of a 39-15 victory over a winless Hamilton squad.
But on Thursday night at IG Field, the first-year Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive co-ordinator won’t be standing around for the first three quarters as his team takes on the TiCats. He’s also in for a much bigger challenge as Hamilton features one of the most talented rosters in the CFL.
Pierce, who spent the past four seasons as the Bombers quarterbacks coach and the two before that working with the running backs, will be in the thick of it from the opening whistle as he’ll be calling the plays for the very first time.
So, what’s more nerve-racking, preparing for your first CFL appearance as a player or as an offensive co-ordinator?
"That’s a good question," Pierce told reporters over Zoom on Monday.
"It’s football. I wouldn’t say nerve-racking, I would just say excited to go out there and watch the guys work. It’s a different kind of anticipation as a coach than it is as a player but both are very exciting... I think as a coach, what you really cherish and like to see is when guys go out there and have success and to help them get there."
With Pierce calling the shots and with running back Andrew Harris (calf) and wide receiver Darvin Adams (shoulder) doubtful to play, this offence will surely have a different flavour to it than the one that hoisted the Grey Cup at McMahon Stadium in 2019. But wide receiver Charles Nelson, who’s been working with the starters in practice this week, likes what Pierce has been cooking up on offence — especially for the pass catchers.
"This receiving group is very versatile... It’s a buffet out there for us. We’re all gonna eat. (I) love it. (Pierce has) got a lot of dressing on there," said Nelson, who will likely suit up at slotback on Thursday.
As for his offence’s recipe, Pierce isn’t one to share.
"You know, we’re gonna go out there and execute our offence and hopefully get a couple first downs," said Pierce, opting to hold his cards close to his chest.
If the Bombers do end up racking up the first downs, receiver Kenny Lawler will likely have a lot to do with it as he was one of the biggest stars of training camp. But now that the roster’s set and game day is fast approaching, the mood around the locker room has changed quite a bit.
"It’s a lot different, man. It’s a different feeling. You see people walking different. You see people talking different. Everything when it comes to our preparation is different," Lawler said.
"So many things are different. I believe it’s just the standards we hold ourselves to. I don’t like to talk about last year, but you know, we won a Grey Cup championship and that’s the level we’re holding ourselves to."
Lawler caught a bomb from quarterback Zach Collaros at Monday’s practice, something that the team would like to see more of this season. With quarterback Chris Streveler still in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals, Harris sidelined due to injury, and Collaros boasting a more dynamic arm than Matt Nichols, this Bombers offence shouldn’t rely as heavily on the ground, meaning Lawler — the team’s leading receiver in 2019 — could be poised for a breakout campaign.
"I think Kenny himself wanted to see some growth, too. An increased leadership role from him as well and he’s done that in camp," Pierce said.
"He’s a more vocal guy, he’s leading meetings, leading individual periods for that group, which is great to see, and just another step. Obviously, he’s had those physical abilities to make plays and now it’s just rounding him into a really good football player, so we’re excited to see that from him."
Lawler, a 27-year-old out of the University of California, hauled in 43 passes for 637 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games in 2019. Now with a full season under his belt, Lawler is putting the pressure on himself to take a big step in 2021.
"(At the start of 2019) I was very one-dimensional whereas when it comes to now, I’m very versatile," said the 6-3 Lawler. "I can play here, I can play there, I know what everyone is doing to help me to get open. I just know the whole grand scheme of the offence to where that just boosts your game so much."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.