Lucky is on the Bombers side; Whitehead wows in Winnipeg home debut

There was nothing “Lucky” about Rodney Whitehead Jr.’s performance in Winnipeg’s home opener.

His blazing speed — the former NFL return specialist runs a 4.29 40-yard dash — burned the Eskimos’ defence for a 75-yard touchdown.

And Whitehead flashed his natural burst and vision to take a screen pass 41 yards for a score.

“Not many people in the world can turn that into a touchdown. Usually that’d be a 12-, 13-yard gain pushed out of bounds and somehow he scored a 40-yard touchdown,” quarterback Matt Nichols said.

“We haven’t had many of those here in the past. You don’t expect that to end up as a touchdown. He’s lighting in a bottle for sure.”

Whitehead had nine catches for 64 yards through parts of three NFL seasons, all of which came with the Dallas Cowboys. It only took one breakout game for the 27-year-old to surpasses those totals in the CFL.

Recording seven receptions for 155 yards and two touchdowns – the first scores of his professional career – the man with the red hair showed his flair diving over the goal line while posing in the air.

Whitehead earned more than $1 million in the NFL, yet came to Winnipeg as a bargain. The Bombers inked the five-foot-nine, 180-pounder for one year plus an option. His 2019 pay has $60,000 in base salary, $3,000 housing and $200 per game if he plays 51 per cent or more of the offensive snaps along with other all-star incentives. In 2020, the pay bumps to $65,000 with everything else staying the same.

Just based on the financials, Whitehead’s playing for the love of the game and perhaps one last opportunity to crack an NFL roster. Should the Manassas, Virginia native keep building on a spectacular outing against Edmonton teams from south of the border are likely to come calling.

Both of the speedster’s explosive plays came out of the slot as Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice draws up various ways to use the game-breaker. Whitehead had a full waggle – run towards the line of scrimmage – blowing by Canadian defensive back Godfrey Onyeka despite contact on his first touchdown.

The positioning on his other major was similar to the way Whitehead was used as a senior in the NCAA. Florida Atlantic University used Whitehead as the Owls’ slot receiver in 2014 when he nabbed 76 passes for 706 yards and six touchdowns.

Whitehead should only grow more dangerous as he becomes comfortable using the waggle. Seeing a receiver with his top gear hit the line of scrimmage at full speed poses a major challenge for defensive backs across the league.

Winnipeg has led the CFL in offensive points each of the past two seasons. Nichols has established himself as the franchise quarterback, Andrew Harris is the two-time defending rushing champion, and Darvin Adams and Chris Matthews lead a talented receiving corps.

If Whitehead can provide the six-quick ability the Bombers have been searching for during the Mike O’Shea-Kyle Walters era, it could very well put Winnipeg over the top.

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