Bomber Thoughts is a blogging series that features insight and analysis from author John Hodge immediately following every Blue Bomber game of the season.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Montreal Alouettes on Wednesday night by a score of 36-13. Here are my thoughts:
1. All things considered, Wednesday night’s performance was an impressive one for a Blue Bomber club with lots to prove heading into the 2016 season. Despite a disappointing showing from the club’s first-string defence — more on that in a moment — Winnipeg’s depth players dominated several stretches of the second half, an impressive feat for a club that boasted virtually zero roster depth just two seasons ago. With the team’s second preseason game just five days away, the Bomber brass will have a very short window to figure out where its players stand heading into Monday’s contest against Ottawa.
2. I am a lifelong CFL fan who would consider himself to be a fairly patient person. I make no disillusions about the CFL’s place in the professional sports landscape — while still a great league, the CFL can and will never be able to compete with the NFL or NHL’s access to league media, advance stats, and more — and I adjust my expectations accordingly. Still, it is difficult to articulate the extent of my disappointment in the league’s repeated failure to keep accurate live statistics. As of the writing of this post (1:30 AM ET), the league website states that the game is still in the second quarter and that no statistics have been registered by any players whatsoever (pictured below). How could this level of incompetence be defended by even the most forgiving CFL apologist? Such ineptitude is entirely unacceptable and, frankly, should serve as a source of embarrassment for the CFL’s entire front office staff. How many yards did Drew Willy pass for tonight? I have no idea. How many yards did Brandon Rutley record along the ground? No clue. I can, though, tell you that Javicz Jones of the Indoor Football League’s Iowa Barnstormers registered a league-leading 14 tackles per game last year. Why? Because the Indoor Football League — a league that pays its players $200 per game — has a website functional stats page. What a novel concept.
3. Even taking the strength of the Alouettes’ receiving corps into account, the Bombers’ first-team secondary put on a miserable display in the first quarter. Kevin Glenn racked up a reported 140 passing yards in the first 20 minutes of play, repeatedly taking advantage of halfbacks Julian Posey and Bruce Johnson in soft zone looks. Chris Randle appears to have returned to his pre-injury form, but this unit has a lot of work to do before the regular season gets underway.
4. On a night that saw Drew Willy and Matt Nichols look fairly mediocre, sophomore pivots Dominique Davis and Bryan Bennett stole the show in the second half (albeit, of course, against a significantly lower level of competition). Completing many long throws and rattling off several impressive runs, Davis and Bennett accounted for many of the Bombers’ 30-straight points to close out the game. Willy and Nichols are firmly entrenched as the top-two quarterbacks on this team, but it’s nice to see a legitimate battle for the club’s third-string quarterback spot.
5. Jace Daniels, the Bombers’ starting right tackle from a season ago, played all but the final eight minutes of Wednesday night’s game at left guard. Considering the club’s evident lack of interest in providing other players an opportunity there, it’s safe to assume Daniels will start at left guard in the regular season opener on June 24.
6. Thomas Mayo looked great in the slot tonight, running solid routes and bringing in a number of balls in stride. Mayo, who fashions his bleach blonde hair similarly to NFL star Odell Beckham Jr., was a free agent camp attendee who has had to fight for every opportunity he’s received thus far in camp. Depending on how well Jace Davis heals up over the next few days — Davis, currently out with a lower body injury, was the consensus top-ranked rookie receiver prior to getting hurt — Mayo should lock up a roster spot for himself with another nice pre-season showing in Ottawa.
7. Adrian Hubbard also played his way onto this team tonight. Showing a nice burst off the edge, Hubbard beat veteran all-star Jeff Perrett with a nice speed move to the outside to record a first quarter sack. With Miami product Shayon Green failing to leap off the page, Hubbard is likely to start week one opposite Jamaal Westerman.
8. Speaking of Westerman, the best “welcome to the CFL” moment of Wednesday evening’s game came in the first quarter. Jacob Ruby, the eighth overall selection of last year’s draft, made his first CFL start at left tackle following the off-season departure of long-time Alouette Josh Bourke. Westerman got the jump on Ruby from the snap of the ball with a nice speed move, going virtually untouched en route to a devastating, blindside wallop of an unsuspecting Kevin Glenn. Whoops.
9. The Bombers’ new uniforms look phenomenal in person. It’s just too bad nobody in the stands got to wear one.
10. Andrew Harris came as advertised. His first quarter touchdown reception may have been called back due to an illegal block penalty, but that doesn’t matter. The roar of the crowd said it all — Harris, for many fans, has already become the face of the Winnipeg Football Club.
11. A subtle touch that provided some insight into the club’s marketing scheme — the nameplate on safety Macho Harris’ uniform reads: “M. Harris,” while the nameplate on running back Andrew Harris’ reads: “Harris.” Not “A. Harris.” Simply, “Harris.”
12. Speaking of Macho Harris, consider me an early skeptic of his ability to start at safety. An erratic tackler and inconsistent cover man, I’m interested to see what newcomer Johnny Patrick can do at safety should he be healthy enough to play in Monday’s contest in Ottawa.
13. I liked what I saw from running back Tim Flanders — I’d tell you his stats, but, you know, recording statistics is quite the Herculean task, apparently — but he’s going to be a tough player to keep around. Carlos Anderson looked just as strong coming out of the backfield and, given his experience returning kicks, provides more versatility in his skill set. With the Bombers now starting a Canadian at running back, finding an American roster spot for a player that exclusively carries the ball will likely prove impossible.
14. Speaking of Anderson, I loved seeing him out there making plays again in blue and gold. Anderson nearly won the starting running back job last season before tearing his ACL in the club’s second pre-season game. There’s a good chance he makes the team this year. It’d be a great story for a deserving, hard-working young man.
15. Good for Sergio Castillo to make 4/5 field goals, many of which came from beyond 40 yards. He won’t make the Bombers’ final roster — that spot belongs to free agent addition Justin Medlock — but he may have played his way onto another roster with an impressive pre-season performance. Hamilton and Toronto are the two most likely candidates to require additional kicking help this season.
16. Tony Burnett has to be one of the most underrated players on the Bomber roster. He plays much bigger than his 6’0, 205 pound frame and he closes on ball carriers tremendously quickly. Maurice Leggett will start the season as the club’s SAM linebacker, but I’d like to see Burnett used heavily in the defensive rotation.
17. My heart broke seeing veteran offensive lineman Jeff Keeping go down with what appeared to be a very serious knee injury. A former Leo Dandurand trophy winner, Keeping turned down a better offer from B.C. in free agency to play for his former Argonaut teammate Mike O’Shea. Four snaps into his first preseason action, he goes down for what could be the whole season. Stay tuned for an injury update.
18. Tenth overall selection Michael Couture took over at centre following Keeping’s injury and held his own versus Montreal’s second-unit defensive line. Once he adds some weight and gets some seasoning, Couture’s going to become a mainstay along this Bomber offensive line.
19. Trent Corney was another Canadian rookie who came as advertised. Notching two sacks (I think), Corney got off the ball quickly and showed his elite athleticism in pursuit of Brandon Bridge and Vernon Adams. Provided he maintains his current projected rate of development, Corney is going to eventually become one of the better Canadian pass rushers in the recent memory of the CFL.
20. I’ve yet to re-watch Wednesday night’s game — I’ll do that Thursday morning — but I liked what I saw from international offensive linemen Travis Bond, Jermarcus Hardrick, and Manase Foketi in the second half. If Keeping’s out long-term, the Bombers may opt to keep an extra American around on the practice roster just in case. The Bombers have enough Canadian talent to start three Americans on the offensive line if necessary, something that hasn’t often been the case in the recent history of the Winnipeg Football Club.
21. The Eskimos gave up a second round pick in the 2014 CFL draft to acquire a proven, starting-quality quarterback Mike Reilly just three seasons ago. This makes it all the more laughable that Montreal gave up next year’s first rounder to acquire the rights to Oregon product Vernon Adams. Adams, who played the majority of the fourth quarter for the Als, looked uncomfortable in the pocket, throwing a few erratic passes and an interception off a Rupert Butcher tip. Adams may eventually become a high-calibre pivot, but he failed to stand out in his first opportunity under centre.
22. It was nice to see Addison Richards looking quick on the field today after off-season hip surgery. Coming off a disastrous rookie campaign, the eleventh overall pick of the 2015 CFL draft could be the first man up should Rory Kohlert fall victim to an injury this season.
23. Justin Veltung, the receiver/returner who showed flashes last year, came into Wednesday’s game ahead of former Tiger-Cat Quincy McDuffie on the club’s depth chart. Despite a bad red zone bad drop, don’t be surprised if McDuffie gets the majority of the work next week in Ottawa.