Winnipeg – The dominant story line with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers leading up to Thursday’s game in Edmonton was about the quarterback change. Matt Nichols taking over from Drew Willy has been the talk of the town. But as the Bombers get set to meet the Eskimos for the second time in two weeks, the Winnipeg defence is under the gun every bit as much as the sputtering offence.
Not only has the Blue bomber defensive dozen given up the most yards per game in the CFL at 438, they will be without 3 regular members of their secondary when they line up against Mike Reilly and what appears to be the makings of a juggernaut Edmonton offence. Cornerback Chris Randle, defensive halfback Julian Posey and safety Macho Harris were all injured in last weeks loss to Calgary. Terrence Frederick from Texas A & M, who has only been with the bombers for a couple of weeks, will start in Randle’s spot on the corner, while Canadian rookie Taylor Loffler from UBC makes his career starting debut at safety. The good news is that Posey’s replacement will be veteran Bruce Johnson, who returns from a broken hand. Still with that much change in the secondary, communication becomes a concern, especially with so many young players in the group. And communication breakdowns against the Eskimos will likely be disastrous. Edmonton has scored an average of 32 points through it’s first four games, and Reilly is averaging a stunning 395 yards passing per game. His favorite targets have been former Blue Bomber Adarius Bowman, who is on a record breaking pace with 34 catches for 543 yards, and Derel Walker, who has hauled in 31 passes for 494 yards. Throw in another former Bomber, Cory Watson, with 17 catches for 206 yards, along with veterans Chris Getzlaf and Nate Coehoorn, and the Blue Bomber secondary will have its work cut out for it, and then some.
The loss of veteran Canadian offensive tackle Pat Neufeld has forced the Bombers to play three Americans on their offensive line, and head coach Mike O’Shea is hoping that the size increase will provide a positive effect. 320 pound Jermarcus Hardrick slides into Neufeld’s right tackle spot while massive Travis Bond, tipping the scales at 355, takes over in Hardrick’s left guard position.
For the 29-year old Nichols, his first start of the season at quarterback provides a chance to get his career jump-started again. Nichols started 15 games between Edmonton and Winnipeg last season. He feels all the experience he gained from that playing time has made him a better quarterback and he is eager to prove to his former team and more importantly to the Bombers that he is a quarterback they can win with.
It has been 10 years since the Bombers last won in Commonwealth Stadium. “The catch” by Milt Stegall on the last play of the game in 2006 was the last time the Bombers tasted success in Edmonton, although they did play the Eskimos to a 39-39 tie the following year. Since then, well, it hasn’t been pretty on most of the Bomber visits to Northern Alberta.
Bombers bring a 1-4 record into the game, Eskimos are 2-2. Join Bob Irving, Doug Brown, Ed Tait, Kirk Penton, Blake Dermot and a cast of thousands for the broadcast beginning at 6-30 with the pre-game show, play by play at 8.