Bombers’ back-up QBs shine in preseason tie (& 16 other thoughts)

1. Saturday’s game between Winnipeg and Saskatchewan wasn’t televised, one of the five preseason games TSN elected not to broadcast this season. It was disappointing for fans of both the Bombers and Riders, all whom would have liked to see the club’s new players in action.

I tweeted out the following message on Tuesday — the day of the Calgary/B.C. game that wasn’t televised — and it’s since gotten 230 retweets. Clearly, many CFL fans agree that TSN should consider televising the entire preseason.

An unfortunate aspect of TSN’s preseason schedule is that the CFL’s broadcast partner missed the two games started by Canadian quarterbacks. Andrew Buckley (Calgary) and Brandon Bridge (Saskatchewan) are in competition to back-up Bo Levi Mitchell and Kevin Glenn, respectively, and both had solid preseason showings. Buckley went 6 of 8 for 59 yards versus B.C. on Tuesday, while Bridge went 20 of 26 for 201 yards and a touchdown against Winnipeg.

I wrote a piece back in April about how the CFL is putting Canadian quarterbacks at a disadvantage under its current roster rules. The article was very popular, sparking debate from people on both sides of the issue. Sadly, there are still a lot of fans and media in this country who believe that Canadians are incapable of playing quarterback despite their ability to achieve success at every other position.

With Buckley and Bridge combining to go 26 of 34 for 260 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, it’s clear there are young Canadian quarterbacks who can play in this league. It’s just a shame TSN didn’t give people the chance to see that on television.

2. This season is a make-or-break year for Dominique Davis, the 27-year-old who spent the past two seasons as Winnipeg’s third-string quarterback. Davis re-signed with the Bombers in January after not throwing a pass all of last season, failing to see game-time behind Drew Willy, Matt Nichols, and Kevin Glenn. Going 5 of 8 for 90 yards and a touchdown against Saskatchewan, it’s clear Davis has made improvements to his game over the past twelve months. If he performs well next week against Edmonton, Davis could find himself in the number two spot on Winnipeg’s quarterback depth chart come the regular season.

3. There has been a lot of fuss about Saskatchewan pivot Bryan Bennett over the past two weeks. Bennett was considered an early star at Rider training camp, earning considerable buzz on social media from fans and members of the media in Saskatoon. I couldn’t help but think there was a chance the Bombers would regret keeping Dominique Davis over Bennett, who spent the entire 2016 season on Winnipeg’s practice roster. Saturday was a small sample size, sure, but Bennett struggled greatly, completing just 7 of 15 passes for 82 yards and fumbling three times. So far, it’s clear the Bombers kept the right quarterback.

4. “No. No. Not at all.” These were the first words out of Mike O’Shea’s mouth on the CJOB post-game show when Bob Irving asked him if he was satisfied with Saturday night’s game. “A tie’s not what we need right now,” added O’Shea. Unlike most football people, O’Shea has always put a fair bit of stock into whether his team wins or loses in the preseason. He’ll have his club gunning for a victory on Thursday versus Edmonton.

5. If there’s one major concern Bomber fans should have after Saturday’s contest it’s the lethargic play of the club’s number one offence. Matt Nichols went 5 of 8 for just 32 yards in the first quarter, almost throwing an interception to Kacey Rodgers. Nichols didn’t have his best weapons with him in Regina — Darvin Adams, Weston Dressler, and Andrew Harris all stayed in Winnipeg — but it’d be nice to see more out of the number one unit in the club’s second preseason game.

6. “No one jumped off the page.” These were the words TSN1290’s Darrin Bauming used to describe the club’s position battle at middle linebacker in his post-game show alongside Blue Bomber great Chris Walby. Kyle Knox got the start at middle linebacker, but recorded just one tackle. Nick Temple also recorded just one tackle, while George Stone recorded one fumble recovery. Jovan Santos-Knox led the linebackers with three tackles and a fumble recovery and Kyrie Wilson failed to make the stat sheet. Clearly, the race is still wide open.

7. The Bombers brought in a swath of rookie American receivers to look at in training camp — Quinshad Davis, Justice Liggins, T.J. Lowder, Darrin Peterson, Larry Raper, and Daniel Williams, to name a few — and not many stood out on Saturday night. Lowder scored the Bombers’ first TD (see above) and Liggins made a nice touchdown grab (see point 8). All in all, it still wasn’t a great night for the rookie pass catchers.

Then there’s Ryan Lankford. Lankford, who spent the past two seasons in Saskatchewan, shone with a punt return touchdown in the second quarter (even if it was wiped out due to an offside penalty) and receiving touchdown in the fourth. The Bombers need a returner/receiver hybrid to replace Quincy McDuffie and, after a solid showing in Regina, there’s no reason to think Lankford can’t be that guy.

8. He was playing against mostly rookies, but Dan LeFevour looked excellent late in Saturday’s game. Completing 7 of 9 passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns in just under eight minutes of work, LeFevour looked the part of a CFL veteran pivot making the most of his reps. Over the past decade there have been years where the Bombers haven’t had any quarterbacks who could really play. Don’t look now, but Winnipeg might now have three.

9. Cory Johnson, the man they call ‘Poop,’ had an impactful game from the defensive tackle spot, recording a tackle, sack, and forced fumble. The Bombers planned to start a Canadian defensive tackle this season, but that may change with the emergence of Johnson. Sam Hurl has been getting reps with the first-team unit at middle linebacker, while Patrick Neufeld is an option to start at right tackle. In any case, an interior defensive line pairing of Drake Nevis and Johnson may be tantalizing enough for the Bombers to tinker with the ratio elsewhere.

10. The Bombers have two very good starting defensive ends in Jamaal Westerman and Tristan Okpalaugo, but Jackson Jeffcoat is a name to remember. Jeffcoat, who brings with him some NFL pedigree, has shone in training camp and continued to do so when the lights came on at New Mosaic Stadium. The offensive tackle Jeffcoat is working against in the clip below isn’t an unproven rookie — that’s Jarriel King, a veteran who’s appeared in 35 CFL games with Toronto and Saskatchewan. Finishing the game with three tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble, Jeffcoat could be a great rotational piece for a Blue Bomber front-four that is looking to improve upon a mediocre 2016 season.

11. Kienan LaFrance didn’t play for the Riders on Saturday night due to injury. LaFrance, who signed a free agent contract with Saskatchewan in February worth $120,000 annually, was penciled in by many as the club’s starting running back prior to training camp. After a solid showing from Cameron Marshall (4 carries for 31 yards) and the addition of Anthony Allen last week, it’ll be interesting to see if the Riders decide to go American at the running back spot. If they do, it may be hard for Chris Jones to keep LaFrance around on such a large contract.

12. Speaking of Rider cuts, can we end this bizarre Vince Young experiment, please? Young didn’t play on Saturday after tweaking his hamstring in practice, hampering his already slim chances of making the club. Following the strong play of Brandon Bridge and a solid late-game showing from Marquise Williams (5 of 6 for 38 yards), there’s no way Young is making Saskatchewan’s roster. The 34-year-old has a great job at home in Texas — cut him now so he can go back to his family and his cushy gig at his alma mater.

13. Injuries are always a key factor in preseason games. Teams want to get their veterans enough reps to prepare for the season, but that comes at a risk of key players getting hurt. Canadian starters Rob Bagg and Brendon LaBatte both hobbled off the field for Saskatchewan, as did depth offensive lineman Josiah St. John. No player injuries were announced on the Bombers’ side, though that doesn’t mean no injuries took place. We’ll find out more in the coming days.

14. I reached out to Canadian Football Hall of Fame nose tackle Doug Brown for his thoughts on the performance of Faith Ekakitie, the first overall pick in the 2017 CFL draft. “He’s a bit of a project right now. Gonna take some time,” wrote Brown. “It’s not an easy jump for anybody.”

15. You want to impress your head coach in the preseason? Dominate on special teams. That’s exactly what fullback John Rush — a converted linebacker out of Guelph — did on Saturday, recording a game-leading four special teams tackles.

16. Felix Menard-Briere missed a 44-yard field goal in the third quarter that was returned by rookie running back Quincy Walden. Walden appeared to be destined for the end zone when Menard-Briere, the Bombers’ fourth-round pick out of Montreal, caught him from behind. Menard-Briere isn’t your average kicker — he ran a 4.618 40-yard dash at the Montreal Regional Combine in March, the best time of all players in attendance.

17. A tip of the cap to Global Winnipeg’s Russ Hobson who was the only person tweeting high-quality video clips of the game. Hobson’s tweets made the lack of a television feed slightly easier to swallow, while providing some nice content for me to embed in this piece. Give him a follow.

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