The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Edmonton Eskimos by a score of 20-3 in front of 19,273 fans at I.G. Field in Friday night’s pre-season action.
Below are my thoughts on the game.
Let’s get it started
The Bombers have grown averse to releasing preseason depth charts in recent years, choosing instead to distribute positional charts. The distinction between the two is that positional charts simply list players by number — there’s no indication of how close each player is to winning a starting job.
— WPG Blue Bombers (@Wpg_BlueBombers) May 30, 2019
The accuracy of preseason depth charts — or regular season depth charts, for that matter — is debatable but I think it’s important for fans to know who started Friday’s game. So here they are.
Quarterback: Chris Streveler
Running back: Andrew Harris
Wideouts: Darvin Adams (w); Drew Wolitarsky (z)
Slotbacks: Kenny Lawler (x); Lucky Whitehead (y); Rasheed Bailey (r)
Tackles: Delroy Baker Jr. (left); Jamar McGloster (right)
Guards: Drew Desjarlais (left); Geoff Gray (right)
Centre: Michael Couture
Defensive tackles: Drake Nevis; Brandin Bryant
Defensive ends: Jackson Jeffcoat; Willie Jefferson
Linebackers: Kyrie Wilson (weak-side); Adam Bighill (middle); Anthony Gaitor (strong-side)
Cornerbacks: Amari Coleman (boundary); Chandler Fenner (field-side)
Halfbacks: Marcus Sayles (boundary); Brandon Alexander (field-side)
Safety: Jeff Hecht
Many starters left the game over the course of the second quarter. Those among the primary replacements were: Charles Nelson, receiver; Cody Speller, centre; Jake Thomas, defensive tackle; Craig Roh, defensive end; Jesse Briggs, middle linebacker; Mike Jones, field-side cornerback; and Derek Jones, safety.
Players who didn’t dress on Friday but should remain with the Bombers this season are: Mike Miller, fullback; Nic Demski, receiver; Chris Matthews, receiver; Patrick Neufeld, guard; Stanley Bryant, tackle; Jermarcus Hardrick, tackle; Jonathan Kongbo, defensive end; Thomas Miles, linebacker; and Winston Rose, defensive back. Quarterback Matt Nichols dressed for the game but did not play.
Players who missed the game and are on the bubble include: Corey Washington, receiver; D.J. Lalama, linebacker; Marcus Rios, defensive back; Payton Hall, defensive back; and Chris Hall, defensive back.
Take a pass
Chris Streveler was a lot of fun to watch last season.
The 24-year-old started three games, rushed 77 times for 441 yards and completed 86 passes for 1,134 yards. He also accounted for a team-high 21 touchdowns — ten rushing and eleven passing.
Streveler needs to improve as a passer in order to continue establishing himself as a bona fide CFL pivot. As is the case with most mobile young quarterbacks, Streveler has a tendency to rely too heavily on his legs.
That was the case on Friday night when the second-year pivot completed just two-of-six pass attempts for 15 yards. Rushing twice for 34 yards, Streveler was more effective as a ball carrier than a passer.
The South Dakota product didn’t take a ton of snaps and the pre-season is just the pre-season. That said, I think it’s fair to suggest the Bombers were hoping to see more from their young back-up quarterback.
Bryan Bennett, Winnipeg’s third-stringer from a season ago, was the club’s best passer on Friday night. The 27-year-old completed eight-of-fifteen pass attempts for 122 yards and one touchdown. He also rushed twice for ten yards.
Rookie quarterback Sean McGuire played respectably as well, completing six-of-ten passes for 69 yards. He also rushed once for 13 yards.
People will want to compare the play of Winnipeg’s new starters at centre (likely Michael Couture) and right guard (Geoff Gray or Drew Desjarlais) to that of Matthias Goossen and Sukh Chungh from a season ago, which isn’t entirely fair.
Goossen came to Winnipeg as a 21-year-old who’d had four different offensive line coaches in as many seasons at Simon Fraser. He also wasn’t a career centre with the Clan, also starting games at guard and tackle.
Chungh entered the starting line-up in Winnipeg as a rookie in 2015 but did so at a time when the club had little depth along the offensive line. He also came out of USports with some challenges in pass protection — a shortcoming I’m not convinced he ever fully overcame.
Goossen and Chungh benefited from playing beside one another for almost four full seasons. That type of familiarity is invaluable at any position, particularly along the offensive line. And it’s something that’s impossible to generate overnight.
Winnipeg’s offensive line will not be as strong in 2019 as it was a season ago. That much is a given.
I thought rookie Drew Desjarlais was arguably the Bombers’ best national offensive lineman on the night. Michael Couture and Geoff Gray looked comfortable as well.
I think Winnipeg’s young offensive linemen — Desjarlais, Couture, Gray, Cody Speller, Tui Eli, Matthew Ouellet de Carlo — have the potential to make a strong unit. But it will take time.
Charles Nelson and Lucky Whitehead have garnered a lot of attention in training camp for their potential to rejuvenate the Bombers’ return game.
Nelson, 23, joined the team late last season after a respectable career with the Oregon Ducks and eventually entered the starting line-up at slotback. He returned the game’s opening kickoff on Friday for 48 yards and recorded one reception for 11 yards.
Whitehead, 26, signed as a free agent this winter after four seasons in the NFL between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets. The Florida Atlantic product recorded a return touchdown in a preseason game with the Cowboys three years ago and is generally considered the fastest player in Winnipeg’s training camp.
Below is a look at Whitehead’s speed from Global TV’s Russ Hobson on an 18-yard punt return in the first quarter of Friday’s game.
— Russ Hobson (@russ_sportsguy) June 1, 2019
It will be fun to watch this battle progress into next week’s preseason game in Regina. Though it may prove difficult to keep both diminutive receivers, Nelson and Whitehead may force the Bombers to find a way to get both on the regular season roster.
The next Fenner-ation
Chandler Fenner played predominantly field-side cornerback in Friday’s game, a new position for the second-year Blue Bomber.
Fenner was signed away from the B.C. Lions in February of 2018 to a big-money free agent contract. Widely considered one of the best strong-side linebackers in the CFL, Fenner was signed to help fill the void as Maurice Leggett recovered from an Achilles injury.
The 28-year-old ultimately failed to lock down a starting spot last season with Anthony Gaitor winning the strong-side linebacker job. This led to Fenner restructuring his contract ahead of free agency four months ago.
Fenner remains one of the highest-paid members of the secondary, yet he plays a position typically reserved for first or second-year players. That doesn’t jive on paper but it’s Fenner’s special teams acumen that makes him such an important player.
The Bombers want to get better on special teams in 2019 and Fenner is arguably the best cover man they have on punts and kickoffs.
The best thing a young football player can do in the pre-season is do something that makes them stand out (in a positive way, of course).
Some Blue Bombers who stood out for me on Friday night are: Brady Oliveira, running back; Kenny Lawler, receiver; Drew Desjarlais, guard; Alex McCalister, defensive end; Nick Temple, linebacker; and Joe Este, defensive back.
And some Eskimos: Tevaun Smith, receiver; Jean-Simon Roy, centre; Kelcy Quarles, defensive tackle; Darius Jackson, defensive end; and Tyquwan Glass, defensive back.
We’ll do it live!
The Bombers offered a livestream of Friday’s game on the team’s website, which is great for fans who are unable to attend games live. It’s nice to see more CFL clubs making pre-season games available when TSN elects not to televise them.
I understand that TSN can’t broadcast every pre-season game — it’s an expensive enterprise that yields below-average viewership. That said, it’s frustrating when a game is being played and there’s no way to watch it.
Shoutout to the Eskimo Empire Podcast crew for broadcasting portions of last week’s pre-season game between the Lions and Eskimos on Twitter.
Home sweet home
Winnipeg native Dylan Schrot scored the lone touchdown in Friday night’s game on a 48-yard bomb from Bryan Bennett. The irony is that Schrot is only on Winnipeg’s roster because fifth-round draft pick Malik Richards got injured early in camp.
— Russ Hobson (@russ_sportsguy) June 1, 2019
Richards was released by the Bombers shortly after suffering a leg injury and signed with the Eskimos days later.
The official attendance of last year’s preseason game between the Eskimos and Blue Bombers was 23,034. Winnipeg’s pre-season attendance has averaged 23,927 over the past five seasons.
That number dropped to 19,273 fans on Friday night. I wonder if the Bombers have seen a drop-off in season ticket renewals since last year…
Return of the Pod
The Blue Bomber Talk Podcast will return for a fifth season on Monday, June 3. We typically upload late in the evening — check back to 3DownNation for a link or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.