The return of Weston Dressler gave the Blue Bombers a much-needed boost Tuesday.
The veteran receiver said he’s ready to play against the Argonauts in Toronto Saturday, news that comes on the heels of Winnipeg losing leading-receiver Darvin Adams and star linebacker Maurice Leggett to injuries last weekend.
“It’s always frustrating as a player to sit back and watch, especially having done it too much this year, so I’m just happy to be back out there,” Dressler said after the Bombers (11-4) held a closed practice.
The 10-year receiver missed the past three games with an upper-body injury and also four games earlier in the season with a lower-body injury.
Leggett has already had surgery for the Achilles tendon he tore late in the game while landing after grabbing an onside kick. That ends his all-star calibre season that included 50 tackles, three interceptions – one for a touchdown – three quarterback sacks and three forced fumbles in 13 games.
Adams’ undisclosed upper-body injury – he was hit in Winnipeg’s first series and was later seen with his left arm in a sling – isn’t the same as the collarbone he broke last season, O’Shea said.
The chance of Adams being back at the start of the playoffs “might be a little early,” O’Shea said, but in time for a deep run in the post-season hasn’t been totally ruled out.
“I don’t ever want to count him out, though,” O’Shea said. “I know he’s going to work hard and I know given his past history he’s always become available earlier than expected.”
Adams missed 10 games after breaking his collarbone in July 2016, but he returned for the final two regular-season games and the team’s West Division semifinal loss to B.C.
The wide receiver was having a career year this season, with 76 receptions for 1,120 yards and seven touchdowns in 15 games.
While O’Shea and his players always stress the next-man-up approach after injuries – veteran defensive end Jamaal Westerman went down with a season-ending injury in early September – the void left by Adams and Leggett is huge.
“Those are X-factor type players,” Dressler said. “You never know when they’re going to step up and make that big play that can change momentum with a game.
“Ultimately, those are two guys that can single-handedly win a game for you. There’s not a lot of players like that in this league that can take over at times so it’s tough to overcome that.
“We feel like, as a team, we’ve got all the pieces to fill in and it’s not about replacing each guy individually, it’s keep playing as a team and doing everything we can.”
Dressler said he’ll help his fellow receivers all he can, which include wide receiver Chris Givens. He has 60 NFL games on his resume and has yet to play since signing Sept. 21.
“I think we’ll have a number of guys available to play different spots,” O’Shea said.
The same goes for the defensive side of the ball and the hole left by Leggett’s injury.
“We’ve had a bunch of different guys play that spot, in practice also,” O’Shea said. “You see guys rolling in and out all the time throughout the entire practice, getting reps at different spots, just for these sort of circumstances.”
Middle linebacker Sam Hurl, who makes sure the defensive players know the calls, is confident in the next-man mantra.
“We’re just going to have to pick up where (Leggett) left off,” Hurl said. “The next guy up, in my opinion, is just as capable of making big plays.
“I have faith in all the guys around me so I believe that the guy beneath me that takes my job could do just as good a job as I do. And I feel like that’s a thing that a lot of the guys on this team believe.”
Overall, Winnipeg has been pretty unscathed by injuries with the fewest CFL man-games lost at 66. B.C. is next at 114. Edmonton has lost the most at 271 and Toronto follows at 241.