Bomber Thoughts: Preseason Week One, Winnipeg @ Toronto

FBO CFL Blue Bombers Argonauts 06092015

Bomber Thoughts is a blogging series for which Blue Bomber Talk author John Hodge writes new posts immediately following every Blue Bomber game of the season.

The Blue Bombers came away with a 34-27 preseason victory at Varsity Stadium versus the Argonauts in Toronto on Tuesday night. Here are my thoughts:

1. All four Blue Bomber quarterbacks were able to move the football on Tuesday night. While none of the passers exactly lit up the stat sheet, all four showed varying degrees of comfort in the pocket, solid decision-making ability, and, for the most part, threw accurately. When was the last time the Bombers had four passers who looked like they might actually be able to play?

2. The Bomber’s red zone offence was a huge problem in 2014. Bomber quarterbacks recorded just fifteen touchdown passes, a large part of the reason Lirim Hajrullahu attempted a West Division-high forty-six field goals. Robert Marve’s second quarter touchdown pass to Lavasier Tuinei was the perfect example of just how simple achieving red zone success can be. If I’m Marcel Bellefeuille, I’m going to use curl, post, and hook patterns with my largest slotbacks (Tuinei, 6’5; Addison Richards, 6’5; and Nick Moore, 6’2) on every play from the ten to twenty yard lines this season and instruct my quarterback to find the one who draws single coverage. If the receiver uses his body positioning correctly, the play should result in a catch at the goal line every time. Guys like Andy Fantuz and Jamel Richardson have made careers scoring touchdowns in this fashion and it’s time the Bombers start taking advantage of the size of their largest receivers.

3. Rookie guard Sukh Chungh was excellent in the run game, often walking his man two to five yards into the Toronto linebacking core. Where Chungh struggled was in pass protection. Chungh was repeatedly beaten to the outside by Toronto’s Cleyon Laing and seemed susceptible to the swim move. For now, I’ll chalk up Chungh’s challenges to an overaggressive rookie simply trying to do too much too soon.

4. Matthias Goossen took every snap for the Bombers at centre and I was very impressed with what I saw. Though a lack of blitzing in the preseason makes the blocking reads that much easier, Goossen’s ability to successfully direct pre-snap traffic was a large part of the reason why Winnipeg gave up just one sack. The Bomber offensive line had a great punch in short yardage situations and Goossen’s power off the line was key to this success. Dominic Picard is the team’s unquestioned starter at centre, but I expect Goossen will be ready if called up to start this season.

5. Teague Sherman got off to a stellar start on Tuesday night’s game, notching a fumble recovery and an interception in the game’s opening quarter from his new safety position. Maurice Leggett will surely be the team’s starter come week one of the regular season, but having a national player like Sherman who appears to be capable of starting will provide the Bombers with some extra ratio flexibility in 2015.

6. Second-year cornerback Derek Jones was spotty in coverage through the second half of Tuesday night’s game. Jones took a blatant pass interference call in the end zone that led to Toronto’s second touchdown of the night and was beaten for a long Tori Gurley reception late in the game. I’m not suggesting for a moment that Jones will be cut – he’s a lock to make the club behind incumbent national starter Matt Bucknor – but I’d argue that the speculation that Jones may be ready to unseat Bucknor was largely premature.

7. Where was Darvin Adams on Tuesday night? With the number of rookie receivers who impressed versus the Argos, Adams could be at risk of being cut if he fails to perform next week versus Hamilton.

8. I liked what I saw in spurts from 2014 draftee Quinn Everett who spent last season finishing up his CIS eligibility with Mount Allison. He’ll take time to develop, but the Bombers need to find a way to keep Everett around.

9. Johnny Adams came as advertised on Tuesday night. He shows tremendous body positioning in coverage, while his ability to close on open field tackles is outstanding. Personally, I’d love to see him stay at SAM linebacker as the season opens, something that would allow coverage ace Chris Randle to stay at the weak-side corner position he played so well last season.

10. Speaking of the SAM linebacker spot, Don Unamba was sensational on special teams last season and played well in spot starts at SAM linebacker. Considering how much he struggled at field-side halfback on Tuesday night, the Bombers would be best to move him back to SAM.

11. Robert Marve impressed with his legs yet again on Tuesday night. Marve routinely used his speed to buy time in the pocket, while his third quarter 21-yard touchdown scamper was sensational. Where Marve struggled at times was in the passing game. Marve, who’s made no secret of his desire to earn an NFL shot next season, appeared more concerned about putting together a highlight package than moving the football on his first few snaps. He under-threw several of his early deep throws and it wasn’t until he started progressing through his reads that he found some success.

12. The knock on Jesse Briggs heading into the 2014 CFL draft was his lack of football IQ. A year into his development at middle linebacker, Briggs looked vastly improved in his ability to see plays develop and get to the football. With Sam Hurl projected to start at middle linebacker this season, having a capable national back-up like Briggs would be a major asset for the blue and gold.

13. Carlos Anderson and Justin Veltung were the only Bomber returners of impact. If Jhomo Gordon and/or Bradley Randle make the final roster it will likely have to be as pure positional players.

14. Speaking of Carlos Anderson, he should be right up there in the conversation for the starting tailback position. Watch for him to get an increased workload next week in Winnipeg.

15. Kris Bastien made an impressive catch off the turf early in the game, showing off the great hands people have been raving about all training camp. Though it was Bastien’s lone catch, I noticed him picking up blitzes well from his slotback spot. It’s often said that players make the team based on things they do away from the ball and Bastien appears to be that type of player.

16. Jace Daniels settled down nicely at right tackle after a rough start to the game. Daniels dominated Tristan Okpalaugo throughout the second quarter, something I found very impressive. Okpalaugo had twelve sacks in a stellar rookie campaign with Toronto last season.

17. International kicker/punter Anthony Santella had to be perfect this preseason to have any chance of making the team alongside national incumbent Lirim Hajrullahu. His second quarter misses from 42 and 32 have likely sealed his fate.

18. Add defensive back Patrick Hall to the list of players who can expect a plane ticket home sooner rather than later.

19. Jordan Reaves was relatively invisible on offence (Reaves made just one reception for five yards) but made a nice play on special teams to recover Jhomo Gordon’s fumbled punt return. If Reaves makes the Bombers this season it will likely be as a pure special teamer.

20. Tommy Griffiths, an offensive lineman from Wilfred Laurier who went undrafted in 2014, played a few series at defensive tackle for the blue and gold, notching two tackles. Knowing how hungry the Bombers are to find someone to rotate with 2014 starter Jake Thomas, changing sides of the ball could be Griffith’s ticket to making the team.

21. Denicos Allen made a few key tackles late in the game, including a sack that sealed the victory with just over one minute left. For a guy who’s been catching a lot of people’s eyes at the middle linebacker spot but did little through the game’s first three quarters, these late-game plays could have saved Allen’s roster spot for another week.

22. I was impressed with the play of 2015 draftee Christoph Normand on the Bomber’s punt coverage unit. With the new CFL rule that limits the number of players who can travel downfield before the ball is punted, players who can get downfield in a hurry are at an all-time premium.

23. I missed Anthony Coombs’ snaps due to TSN’s issues with the video feed, but I was disappointed to hear Bob Irving say Coombs appeared to get hurt on one of his first touches. Coombs, a University of Manitoba product, had his rookie season cut short due to a torn labrum last year. Here’s hoping Coombs has a speedy recovery.

24. Matt Sewell played virtually the entire game for the Argonauts at left tackle. Should he win that spot, the Argos would join the Alouettes as the CFL’s only two teams to start all-national offensive lines.

25. The Argos appear to have found a keeper in CFL rookie receiver Tori Gurley. Gurley signed contracts with eight (yes, eight) NFL teams from 2011-2014 before coming north.

26. Tuesday night’s game appeared to be pretty injury-free, something that is always nice to see. Louie Richardson went down with a left leg injury in the second quarter and Winnipeg player went down midway through the third (I didn’t catch the player’s name or number due to a glitchy feed). Despite a relatively injury-free game, the Bombers would do well to better manage their players in late game situations. I spotted Matt Bucknor playing on a punt cover team late in the fourth quarter, something I felt was highly unnecessary given the propensity for injury on special teams plays.

27. Most people, myself included, don’t put any stock into whether a team wins or loses in the preseason. Blue Bomber head coach Mike O’Shea does. Prior to the game, O’Shea discussed the way in which he and the rest of the Bomber brain trust are trying to cultivate a winning culture in the locker room, even in games that are meaningless in the standings. Good for Coach O’Shea and the rest of the organization for getting win number one. Even if it doesn’t count.

John Hodge, Blue Bomber Talk

Twitter: @BlueBomberTalk

Email: [email protected]

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.