The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were defeated by the Edmonton Eskimos on Saturday afternoon by a score of 33-24 in front of 27,749 fans at Commonwealth Stadium. Below are my thoughts on the game.
Here’s something I never thought I’d do — start a column by writing about Poop.
As I reported yesterday, Cory ‘Poop’ Johnson has signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders following his release from Winnipeg’s practice roster.
Johnson requested his release earlier this week, expressing to Mike O’Shea his desire to return home in order to make more money. The defensive tackle moonlights as a rapper — more on that in a moment — and would be free to sign with a team in the AAF, the fledgling football league that kicks off in February. Earning more than CFL practice roster money — especially with the CAD-USD exchange rate — wouldn’t be difficult for the second-year pass rusher.
It’s understandable why Johnson would request his release from the team and, to their credit, the Bombers did the ethical thing in cutting him.
Except they shouldn’t have.
CFL players released late in the season from an active roster are ineligible to play for a new team until the following year. This exception doesn’t apply to practice roster players, meaning that Johnson can dress and play for Saskatchewan in the postseason.
This was a crafty move from Johnson and the Riders. Teams can claim players from opposing practice rosters, but such moves can only be consummated if all parties — both teams and the player — agree to the transaction.
Had Saskatchewan claimed Johnson off the Bombers’ practice roster, Winnipeg would only have needed to move him to the one-game injured list (or suspended list) to retain his rights. Letting any player join a rival team — much less one who’s eligible to play — prior to a postseason meeting would have been unthinkable.
Call it a win for the green and white. Saskatchewan gets a solid interior pass rusher to replace an injured Mic’hael Brooks with the added bonus of any information that Johnson can provide about his old team heading into the playoffs.
If there’s any consolation for the Bombers it’s that things worked out the last time a former player signed with a rival heading into the postseason.
Terence Jeffers-Harris was released in November of 2011 just days ahead of the East Final between Winnipeg and Hamilton. The enigmatic receiver was quickly signed by the Ticats for the sole purpose of providing information on the Bombers.
“TJ Harris gave us there hole play book,” tweeted Avon Cobourn, then a member of the Ticats (and, ironically, later a member of the Bombers’ coaching staff). “They stupid for letting [him] go a day before the game.”
Winnipeg won the game 19-3, a contest in which running back Chris Garrett rushed 29 times for 190 yards and a touchdown.
Evidently, little harm was done.
There’s also a question of how the Bombers’ remaining players will feel about Johnson jumping ship. Johnson performed a live rap concert in Winnipeg on Saturday night with a number of teammates in attendance as a show of support.
To host a concert in front of your teammates and then bounce to a rival club mere days later probably won’t sit well with leaders in the clubhouse.
Regardless, we’re in for a wild ride in next week’s rivalry-fueled West Semi-Final. Stay tuned.
The top priority for the Bombers in Saturday’s game was remaining healthy. With nothing to play for in the standings, Winnipeg needed to avoid injury in order to have their roster ready to go for next week’s West Semi-Final.
Though we won’t get a full view of the club’s injury situation until the coming days, it didn’t appear as though the Bombers suffered any injuries in Edmonton. If that’s the case, that’s a huge win for the club heading into the playoffs.
Chris Streveler played three of the game’s four quarters, completing nine of 15 pass attempts for 190 yards and a touchdown. The rookie pivot also rushed ten times for 76 yards and a touchdown, frequently escaping pressure with his legs.
— CFL on TSN (@CFLonTSN) November 3, 2018
It would be nice to see Streveler rely less on his running ability, but the South Dakota product is still in his first as a professional. Getting his first start since week three, Streveler showed signs of improvement and continues to establish himself as one of the most exciting young players in the CFL.
Matt Nichols has played well in the playoffs the past two years, but the Bombers need to get Streveler some work in next week’s West Semi-Final. He provides a key dynamic that will force the Riders’ defence to stay honest.
Mike O’Shea’s record as the head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers now sits at 45-45 through five regular seasons with the team.
O’Shea will soon surpass Dave Ritchie (97) in regular season games coached, leaving just Cal Murphy (138) and Bud Grant (144) ahead of him in club history.
Murphy and Grant coached the Bombers to many great regular seasons, but it was their playoff success that earned them spots in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. Murphy posted a 7-7 record in the postseason, winning the Grey Cup in 1984. Grant, meanwhile, went 15-8 in the playoffs, winning the Grey Cup in 1958, 1959, 1961, and 1962.
This is the next step for Mike O’Shea. Regular season success is important, but playoff success is what solidifies a coach’s legacy. O’Shea has yet to win a postseason game, much less a championship. He’ll hope to change that in the coming weeks starting with next Sunday’s West Semi-Final.
Mike Reilly took every snap for the Eskimos on Saturday, finishing the year as the only quarterback to see action for the club this season.
This means that Kevin Glenn, added as Edmonton’s back-up in January, failed to register a statistic for the first time in his 18-year career. Turning 40 in June, you have to wonder if we’ve seen the last from Glenn in what many consider a Hall of Fame-worthy career.
All Empires fall
The Edmonton Eskimos are in for an interesting off-season.
The job security of President and CEO Len Rhodes has been called into question, as has that of general manager Brock Sunderland and head coach Jason Maas. There’s a chance that all three will be retained in their current roles; there’s also a chance that all three will be fired.
The dismissal of Rhodes would make for a massive organizational shift in Edmonton. The Eskimos are a community-owned team, which complicates the process of hiring a new President and CEO. Navigating the hiring process with a nine-member board rather than a single owner makes for a lengthier interview process, which would in turn slow the search for a general manager (and, subsequently, the search for a head coach).
Perhaps the most important issue facing the club is the status of quarterback Mike Reilly. A pending free agent, Reilly has strong ties to B.C. and is rumoured to be joining the Lions this off-season.
If the Eskimos were only able to win nine games in 2018 with arguably the league’s best quarterback, how can they hope to improve after he’s gone?
It’s impossible to project who could end up under centre in Edmonton should Reilly depart for the west coast — heck, the club might be firing their CEO next week — but the available options hardly represent an upgrade. It’s now been established that nine wins isn’t enough to make the playoffs in the ultra-competitive West Division. Can the Esks possibly improve on that total next season?
One last thought on the Eskimos — you have to figure that we’ve seen the last of receiver D’haquille Williams (for awhile, anyway). The CFL’s leading receiver is bound to get an NFL opportunity this winter and has the potential to hash out a solid career south of the border.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) November 3, 2018
It’s a credit to Edmonton’s scouting department — and quarterback Mike Reilly — that the team has had a receiver get an NFL look for three consecutive years (Derel Walker, 2016; Brandon Zylstra, 2017).
All nine CFL teams announced their player award nominees this past week with Winnipeg’s nominations looking as follows:
Most Outstanding Player — Adam Bighill
Most Outstanding Defensive Player — Adam Bighill*
Most Outstanding Canadian — Andrew Harris*
Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman — Stanley Bryant
Most Outstanding Special Teams Player — Justin Medlock
Most Outstanding Rookie — Marcus Sayles
* – denotes unanimous selection
Winnipeg’s nominees are all fully deserving, but I’ll say this — if given the choice between Marcus Sayles and Chris Streveler, I think we all know which player any coach or GM would choose. Streveler, not yet a year removed from NCAA football, threw for more touchdowns this season than Zach Collaros.
Gray-t (though very brief) debut
As first reported by Ed Tait of BlueBombers.com, Geoff Gray made his CFL debut in Edmonton on Saturday afternoon.
The 2017 first round pick didn’t see action until late in the fourth quarter, at which point he entered the game at right tackle. Gray pancaked pass rusher Alex Bazzie on his first play from scrimmage on a play that saw Streveler get sacked by Jake Ceresna.
How the Bombers view Gray will play a large role in determining how the Bombers go about re-signing their pending free agents along the offensive line — Stanley Bryant, Matthias Goossen, Sukh Chung, and Michael Couture among them.
Speaking of Couture…
Couture for sure
Though the outcome of Saturday’s contest was meaningless in the standings, the game meant a great deal to Michael Couture.
Drafted in the second round of the 2016 draft, Couture had to wait until this year’s Banjo Bowl to start his first CFL game. Saturday was Couture’s second career start, coming barely three months before the Simon Fraser product is slated to become a free agent.
Working against Almondo Sewell and Jake Ceresna — a solid test for any interior offensive lineman — I thought Couture handled himself reasonably well. The Bombers are unlikely to have a starting spot for Couture next year, but the club would be wise to bring him back in a depth role.
The is question is whether or not another team will pony up more cash to sign away the versatile 24-year-old.
The Bombers made an interesting move on Saturday when the club scratched a healthy Justin Medlock, turning to receiver Ryan Lankford to handle kicking and punting duties.
The decision was met with bemusement prior to the game, but feelings of skepticism faded steadily as the game progressed. Lankford handled the kicking and punting duties admirably, finishing the game with a 44.3-yard punting average, one-for-one on field goals, and three-for-three on converts.
Some teams already utilize their third-string quarterback as an extra body on special teams. Could we one day see a team that utilizes a position player as a punter and/or placekicker?
I’ve written (and talked) at length about how the CFL needs to change its playoff format, so I won’t belabor the point here. I will say this, though — the fact that Hamilton (8-9) gets to host a playoff with Edmonton (9-9) missing the postseason is complete garbage.
The Bombers will travel to Regina for next week West Semi-Final, a game that will pit prairie rivals against one another for a fourth and final time this season.
There are a number of story lines heading into the game — more on that later this week — but suffice to say that it will be must-watch entertainment for football fans across the country.
Winnipeg won the first regular season game at New Mosaic Stadium. Can the Bombers win the first playoff game there, too?