Ticats and Bombers trying to figure each other (and themselves) out

Mike O’Shea cannot be trusted.

It’s not just the permanent smirk or his history of abandoning the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as a player – sins for which the faithful have yet forgiven – but the fact that the Winnipeg Blue Bomber head coach has a reputation for unleashing nefarious special teams trickery at every opportunity.

It’s a lesson Ticats’ head coach June Jones learned the hard the way in Week 3 when O’Shea called for a fake punt on a third-and-four early in the second quarter. It was executed perfectly, leading to a first down and field goal.

“Coming off a bye week, they’re going to do some funny things. You can’t practice them but you have to be assignment perfect and if you are, you’ll have those things covered,” Jones said this week. “But one break, one missed assignment and they run the fake? Guess what, it’s not fun.”

The two teams face each other in Winnipeg on Friday night. The Ticats won the early match up by a 31-17 score, largely by exploiting the rawness of rookie quarterback Chris Streveler. But veteran Matt Nichols is back behind centre after having missed the first three games with a knee injury and Winnipeg is an entirely different team with him at the helm.

“This guy is a veteran and he knows their offence,” Jones said. “They want to run the ball but this quarterback knows the system really well. He’s accurate and he knows what he’s doing.”

Things have changed in Hamilton, too. The trade of back up Johnny Manziel to Montreal saw receiver Chris Williams and Canadian defensive end Jamaal Westerman join the Ticats, the latter of whom spent the last three seasons in Winnipeg before signing with the Alouettes as a free agent in the off-season.

Westerman said the Ticat coaching staff picked his brain this week on what to expect from the Bombers, particularly on special teams.

“I know Osh and I know he likes to get after it on special teams. I told them a lot of the code words but I know they probably changed a lot of things,” Westerman said. “As much as I can give, I try and give but if they switch it and we’re all looking for one thing, they hit us with something else. You give what you know but you do it with a grain of salt.”

But Westerman did (jokingly) say he knew the secret to stopping Canadian running back Andrew Harris, who leads the league in rushing and needs just 94 yards to become the 14th player in CFL history to reach the 7,000 for his career. The key: uniform police.

“I got all the secrets. He doesn’t like hot games, he likes to roll up his pants so his calves can show… hopefully he’ll follow the CFL rules,” Westerman said on a conference call while Harris chuckled in the background. “Hopefully he’ll get real tired and runs out of gas.”

If Jones is trying to get a handle on O’Shea’s trickery, the Bombers head coach says his defence is adjusting to Hamilton’s offensive system, the run-and-shoot. After the Ticats 50-point outburst last week against Montreal, they are first in the CFL in net offence and second in average points per game.

“It’s been around, obviously, but it’s new again to this league so there is some adjustment in there,” O’Shea said. “There are certain things that aren’t just your normal combinations that you see out there.”

Both coaches were asked this week to assess where their teams were at, given their similar records and corresponding lack of identity. Their answers were virtually identical.

“Growing, you know, getting better,” O’Shea said.

“I feel every week like we’re getting a little better,” Jones said.

We’ll find out Friday who’s telling the truth.

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