Winnipeg – Blue Bomber head coach Mike O’Shea has made no secret of his admiration for Toronto Argonauts GM Jim Barker and head coach Scott Milanovich. O’Shea credits both with helping develop the coaching skills that earned him the opportunity with the Bombers. On Thursday, the day before the Argos and Bombers were set to meet at BMO Field in Toronto, Milanovich gave O’Shea a ringing endorsement with one simple statement.
“This is the first time in his three years in Winnipeg that O’Shea has had enough talented players to win with” said Milanovich. The comment could be interpreted as an indictment of the Bombers talent scouts, although I doubt Milanovich meant it that way. When Blue Bomber GM Kyle Walters and his staff took over the Bombers in 2014, they warned that the stockpiling of Canadian and American talent wouldn’t happen overnight. But their work now appears to be paying dividends and O’Shea and his staff are the beneficiaries.
“Clearly the quarterback change has made a difference” said Milanovich, referring to Matt Nichols taking over from Drew Willy. “Their offence is playing well around him, I think they are playing better on defence, special teams are playing good, they are a real headache defensively to try to protect and block in the run game, their linebackers are active and their secondary, which is young, is coming together. My guess is the players on the Bombers love playing for O’Shea.”
O’Shea wasn’t about to make any comments re the talent level of his 2014 and 2015 teams. That’s not his style. But he did say, as he has since this years training camp–“We said this year we certainly like the talent we have and the players recognize we have talent in the room. But, it’s not good enough to be 3-4. These last two wins have felt good for us, but it’s nothing that we are going to rest on.”
Bombers back to back wins over Edmonton and Hamilton have featured lightning fast starts by the Bombers. In those two games, the Bombers have outscored their foes 32-0 in the first quarter. Winnipeg has also gone two games in a row without committing a turnover. It’s the first time in 10 years that the Bombers have had consecutive turnover free games.
History is working against the Bombers are they get set to play their first ever game at BMO Field. The Argos have won 6 of the last 7 and 10 of the last 12 games against the Blue Bombers including the last three games played in Toronto. O’Shea would argue that none of that matters. This is a different Blue Bomber team and past results have no bearing on what will happen on Friday night.
The Bombers have made just one lineup change as they try to even their record at 4-4. Manase Foketi will take over from injured Jermarcus Hardrick at right tackle. Foketi, a West Texas A & M grad, is a player the Bombers have been trying to sign since they saw him in their Florida mini-camp in 2014 and O’Shea expects him to step in the play well right off the bat. Matt Nichols makes his third straight start at quarterback for the Bombers and will be relying on Thomas Mayo, Kris Adams and Clarence Denmark to once again pick up the slack at the receiver position with Weston Dressler, Ryan Smith and Darvin Adams on the sidelines. The Argos will have explosive Diontae Spencer back in their receiving corps. But starting pass catchers Tori Gurley, Kevin Elliott and Vidal Hazelton are on the sidelines, presenting Toronto quarterback Logan Kilgore with some of the same challenges that Nichols faces. Kilgore will be making just his second start and Milanovich is hopeful he can play with the poise and confidence he did in helping the Argos to a 23-20 win over Ottawa in their last outing.
The Argos are coming off a bye, while the Bombers will be heading into their bye week after this game. O’Shea says he has no concerns about the upcoming downtime being a distraction. He says the players have known since the start of the season that his break was coming, they made their bye week plans back then, and are eager to head into the break on a winning note.
The game kicks off at 6-30 Manitoba time, and we will have the broadcast on 680-CJOB at 5-30.