Matt Nichols is ready to take a turn at trying to ignite the Blue Bombers’ stagnant offence.
Nichols will replace starter Drew Willy when Winnipeg (1-4) visits the Edmonton Eskimos (2-2) on Thursday f the team that traded the quarterback last year.
“I’m excited for the opportunity,” Nichols told reporters after Sunday’s practice.
“Obviously, it’s never an easy thing, but Drew’s had a great attitude about it. We’re still having our conversations and he’s going to do everything he can to help me play well, and ultimately help this team win.”
Head coach Mike O’Shea explained the change as an attempt to fire up the offence.
“Change it up a little bit and try and score a few more points,” he said.
Nichols replaced Willy midway through the fourth quarter of last week’s 33-18 home loss to Calgary, after Willy forced a throw that Joe Burnett intercepted and took 34 yards for a touchdown.
Aided by a 53-yard kickoff return from Bombers receiver Quincy McDuffie, Nichols guided the team on a four-play, 40-yard drive that ended with Weston Dressler hauling in an 18-yard TD and then a two-point convert pass.
O’Shea admitted it was a tough decision to give Nichols the reins this week against the defending Grey Cup-champion Eskimos, but said Willy “wasn’t playing his best football.”
“It’s a good opportunity for Matt and we’ll see where it takes us,” said O’Shea, who’s in the last year of his contract.
“I believe Drew Willy is still a big part of this football team. I’ve always maintained you need two quarterbacks to get to where we want to be to win championships. I expect Drew to be ready to go at any time, and I know he will be.”
Willy admitted disappointment, but is putting the team first.
“I think any time something like that happens it’s hard to swallow,” Willy said. “But you’ve got to take it the right way and be a professional and support your teammates and do everything you can to help the team.”
Expectations for the club were high entering this season, with new acquisitions on both sides of the ball.
Despite hiring new offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice and Willy declared healthy for his third season at the helm, the team has only scored more than 20 points in two of its five games.
Willy has thrown for 1,473 yards, but only five touchdowns and four interceptions.
Nichols said getting into the Stampeders game – his first chunk of playing time since the pre-season – should help prepare him to make the 20th start of his CFL career that began in 2010 with Edmonton.
The Eskimos traded him last September for a seventh-round CFL draft pick. He filled in for injured starter Mike Reilly in 2015 and went 5-2. That injury, and Nichols’ subsequent performance, made the Bombers seek his services.
Willy had suffered a season-ending knee injury in August and backups Brian Brohm and Robert Marve weren’t getting the job done.
He’s looking forward to playing in Edmonton for the first time since the trade.
“Their schemes have changed a little bit, but it’s still the same base, core guys over there,” said Nichols, who was under centre last October when Edmonton nipped the Bombers 24-23 in Winnipeg.
“I’m excited. There’s going to be probably a little talking on the field. For me, though, it’s once we got on the field it’s kind of nameless faces.”
O’Shea gave updates Sunday on injuries from the loss to Calgary. Offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld was wearing a walking boot and is out six weeks. Defensive backs Macho Harris and Julian Posey will miss about two weeks each and Chris Randle is gone for at least three weeks.
The team announced earlier in the day that they had signed international defensive back Chris Greenwood to the practice roster. He played three games with his hometown Detroit Lions of the NFL in 2013 and was on the practice squad of the Minnesota Vikings in 2014.