Bombers’ defence bends & breaks in preseason tie (& 12 other thoughts)

1. There’s no understating the importance of quarterbacking in Canadian football and, for the second straight week, the Bombers had a positive showing from all three of their pivots. Matt Nichols shook off a slow start to finish 19-of-24 for 227 yards and two touchdowns, while Dominique Davis (6-of-8 for 101) and Dan LeFevour (3-of-3 for 27) moved the ball effectively while also chipping in a pair of rushing touchdowns. It’s the best stable of quarterbacks the club have had in well over a decade, something that should have Bomber fans excited for the 2017 season. Expect Davis to be listed as the club’s primary back-up heading into the regular season, though LeFevour will be nipping at his heels all season long.

2. On the flip-side, the Bombers’ first-unit defence was simply putrid on Thursday night. Edmonton’s James Franklin went 11-of-16 for 133 yards and a touchdown in the first half of play, while Kendial Lawrence and LaDarius Perkins racked up 92 yards along the ground. Considering the Eskimos didn’t dress a single starting offensive lineman or receiver, this is a major concern for a Bomber club that has repeatedly stated its intent on allowing less yardage this upcoming season than it did a year ago. Simply put, Richie Hall’s unit needs to be better.

3. The Bombers’ most hotly-anticipated training camp battle turned out to be a total bust. The middle linebacker spot vacated by Khalil Bass remains wide open heading into the regular season, an unfortunate situation for a club that may be forced to bring in a cast-off from another club after cutdown day. Sam Hurl started the game, though his lack of quickness appeared to be a factor in the early dominance of Edmonton’s rushing attack. Kyle Knox and Nick Temple each got reps at middle linebacker in the second half, though neither made a major impact on the game. The three players combined for four tackles (Hurl had two, while Knox and Temple each had one) and I’m not sure anyone — even Mike O’Shea — knows who will get the start week two in Regina.

4. The club’s mess at middle linebacker goes to show the importance of quality American scouting. The Bombers appear to have uncovered some great young talent in rookies T.J. Thorpe (receiver), Cory ‘Poop’ Johnson (defensive tackle), and Jackson Jeffcoat (defensive end). These are positions at which the club invested heavily through free agency in the additions of Kenny Stafford, Drake Nevis, and Tristan Okpalaugo, whose salaries will account for approximately $400,000 against the cap. This has created a logjam of talent at those positions (not the worst problem to have, but still a problem), while the middle linebacker spot remains vacant. Had the Bombers added players like Thorpe, Johnson or Jeffcoat a season ago, Kyle Walters would have had the cap space to re-sign Khalil Bass instead of blowing his budget in free agency.

5. Winnipeg officially finishes the preseason with a 0-0-2 record, the first time that’s ever been done by a CFL team.

6. Brandon Alexander had a great game at field cornerback, possibly locking down the starting role vacated by the recently-released Terrence Frederick. Though he didn’t officially make the stat sheet, Alexander had three pass knockdowns and looked poised in man coverage.

7. As much as Bomber fans gripe about team’s lack of a standout Canadian receiver, it’s important to remember that the club does have one great national pass catcher — unfortunately, he’s also the starting running back. Andrew Harris, now 30 years of age, was sensational in the opening half, rushing five times for 41 yards and catching four passes for 49 yards. Had the game been televised (sigh), fans across the country would have seen Harris get behind coverage for a beautiful 33-yard over-the-shoulder pass from Matt Nichols. Sadly, fans outside of Investors Group Field were out of luck.

8. Speaking of Thorpe, the newcomer was hurt in the first quarter after making a nice 15-yard catch and run from Matt Nichols. Thorpe returned to the sideline after a long stint in the trainer’s room with a large ice pack on his right knee. Judging by the severity of his limp, it’s probably safe to assume Thorpe will start the season on the six-game injured list.

9. Felix Menard-Briere’s punting was excellent on Thursday night, averaging 47.7 yards per punt with a net average of 42. The 2017 fourth round selection is unlikely to stick with the club this year — he has another year of USports eligibility remaining with the Montreal Carabins — but he’ll make a serious case to become the club’s punter next season.

10. Speaking of the Bombers’ draft picks, I liked what I saw from Faith Ekakitie tonight. He’s got impressive lateral quickness for a big man and twice ran down Edmonton fourth-stringer Zach Kline in the fourth quarter.

11. Speaking of Kline, I expect him to become the Eskimos’ third-stringer when final cuts are announced in the coming days. Danny O’Brien spent the past three years in Ottawa, but Kline’s already the better of the two.

12. As final cuts approach, here are a few predictions for the way in which the Bomber roster could shake down:

American receiver

Gerrard Sheppard and T.J. Thorpe start the season on injured reserve, opening the door for Ryan Lankford to crack the roster as a receiver/returner. The starting Americans will all be veterans — Weston Dressler, Darvin Adams, Clarence Denmark, and Kenny Stafford — but a couple of rookies could find their way onto the practice roster. L’Damian Washington, whose got great size and speed, would be a perfect such candidate.

Canadian defensive tackle

Rupert Butcher lands on the practice roster, serving as the club’s depth national defensive tackle. The big man out of Western had a solid preseason, but Jake Thomas and Faith Ekakitie will be the two top Canadians at the position. With CFL rosters having such limited space, finding room for three Canadian interior defensive lineman will likely prove impossible.

American defensive back

Brandon Alexander earns the starting role at field-side cornerback to round out an otherwise experienced secondary of Bruce Johnson (field-side halfback), T.J. Heath (boundary halfback), Chris Randle (boundary cornerback), and Taylor Loffler (safety). Kevin Fogg should dress as the club’s punt returner and reserve defensive back, while Brian Walker and Chris Greenwood get spots on the practice roster.

Canadian offensive linemen

Matthias Goossen and Sukh Chungh retain their positions as the club’s two starting Canadian offensive linemen with veteran Patrick Neufeld dressing as the sixth man. 2016 second rounder Michael Couture becomes part of the club’s two-man reserve, while 2016 fifth rounder Zachary Intzandt goes to the practice roster. Qadr Spooner, the club’s second round pick out of McGill, goes back to school for his final year of eligibility before rejoining the club next season.

13. The Blue Bomber Talk Podcast fires up this week for the first episode of the 2017 regular season. You can find the show right here on 3DownNation or on iTunes.

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