Prukop throws two late touchdowns to lift Bombers over Riders (& 11 other thoughts)

Photo courtesy: Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders by a score of 25-16 at Mosaic Stadium on Tuesday night in their second and final preseason game. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Prukop up top

Dakota Prukop likely saved his job in Winnipeg when he threw two fourth quarter touchdowns, including a 71-yard pass to Whop Philyor and a 32-yard pass to Tavaris Harrison. The 28-year-old finished the night completing seven-of-twelve pass attempts for 215 yards and two touchdowns along with six carries for 74 yards.

The long touchdowns came after Prukop had two chances to score deep in Saskatchewan territory in the second quarter and came away with zero points.

Janarion Grant was open on the first red zone possession and Prukop’s pass was off target, though there may have been some miscommunication on the play. Prukop missed Blake Jackson twice on the second red zone possession before throwing the ball into the back of the end zone on third down without a receiver in the area.

Prukop also made a number of nice runs, including a smooth 35-yard carry late in the first half that got his team out of poor field position. At worst, he looks like a solid third-stringer whose size and athleticism will allow him to contribute on designed run plays.

How they Dru it up

Dru Brown had a respectable performance, though he was not as sharp as he looked last week against Edmonton. He completed six-of-fourteen pass attempts for 86 yards and rushed the ball four times for 35 yards and a touchdown.

Brown struggled to connect on long passes in the first quarter and made a bad read midway through the frame when he looked to Janarion Grant in double coverage. He also threw deep shots into the end zone to Rasheed Bailey and Brendan O’Leary-Orange, the latter of which wasn’t close to connecting.

The second-year quarterback came awfully close to completing a deep shot to BJ Muckelvene at the end of the first quarter, though the rookie receiver couldn’t squeeze the ball mid-dive.

Skeleton crew

Winnipeg dressed an extremely young roster, which CFL teams often do for road preseason games. Rasheed Bailey was the only starter from last season to make the trip with receiver/returner Janarion Grant, safety Nick Hallett, and cornerback Tyquwan Glass being some other notable players.

Saskatchewan rested all but approximately six of their projected starters with quarterback Cody Fajardo, receiver Duke Williams, and defensive end A.C. Leonard being the most notable absences.

It wasn’t a blowout — Winnipeg was easily the better team in the first half, though the second half was evenly matched — which I think is a good sign for the Blue Bombers. It’s never a bad thing when your backups can go on the road and win a game, even if it means nothing in the standings.

Kicker watch

Marc Liegghio made an 18-yard field goal early in the second quarter along with two converts, while Ali Mourtada kicked one convert. Liegghio also had a better average than Mourtada on kickoffs (76.5 yards to 74.7 yards) and punts (48.0 yards to 42.0 yards).

Who will be Winnipeg’s placekicker when the regular season gets underway next week? Your guess is as good as mine.

American protection(ism)

Global offensive lineman Tomoya Machino started the game at right guard but was replaced by Pat Allen — an American — in the second quarter. The club will likely start Winnipeg native Geoff Gray at left guard but it’ll be interesting to see if they go with three Americans along the offensive line if injuries become an issue.

Allen fired a snap well over the head of Prukop late in the fourth quarter, so I’m guessing the club will keep him at tackle or guard if he’s still with the team come the regular season.

Borsa back home

Kyle Borsa ran an exceptional forty-yard dash ahead of the 2021 CFL Draft and he put that speed on full display in his hometown on Tuesday. His stat line from the night was poor — nine carries for 20 yards and one catch for 18 yards — but he looked like a legitimate CFL running back and made some nice blocks in pass protection.

Brady Oliveira and Johnny Augustine are expected to do most of the heavy lifting out of the backfield but it was nice to see Borsa make plays behind a makeshift offensive line. Winnipeg should be confident with the Regina native being their third ball carrier on the depth chart.

Lavinge Bohème

Canadian defensive back Cedrick Lavigne didn’t generate a ton of buzz heading into the 2022 CFL Draft — he wasn’t even invited to the national combine — but the seventh-round pick had a solid game in Regina. The Carleton product made five defensive tackles, one special teams tackle, and one sack, repeatedly standing out in a positive way.

Nick Hallett will likely start the regular season at safety in place of an injured Brandon Alexander, so having Canadian depth at the position is critical. Malcolm Thompson, another Canadian defensive back who made a couple of big plays last week, delivered an impressive hit to Jester Weah late in the third quarter.

Collaros rests

There was some buzz on social media questioning Winnipeg’s decision not to play Zach Collaros in either of their preseason games, but I think it was a wise choice.

Collaros was the best player in the CFL last season and has played over 100 career regular season games. He doesn’t need the reps, nor does he need to be exposed to extra contact from opposing defenders. It’s probably safe to assume that he’ll be ready for Week 1 — and if he’s not, it won’t be because he didn’t play a couple of series in the preseason.

MIA

Is the province of Saskatchewan still hibernating from a long, harsh prairie winter? It was a Tuesday night preseason game, sure, but it was still shocking to see Mosaic Stadium so empty. Frankly, I expected more from Rider Nation.

What a-boot Rose?

Winston Rose was sporting a walking boot at practice this week after presumably suffering an injury during Winnipeg’s preseason loss to Edmonton. Head coach Mike O’Shea declined to update his status when speaking to the media, though a source indicated to me that the injury is not season-ending. How long will he be out? That remains to be seen.

Cuts

Winnipeg released six players on Saturday, including American receiver Keyion Dixon, Canadian defensive lineman Alfred Green, American defensive lineman Will Evans, American defensive backs Marlon Character, Mike Hampton, and Evan Holm, though Green and Holmes were subsequently re-signed.

There will more cuts on the way, though they don’t have to be finalized until June 4. In 2021, teams carried 45 players on the active roster (two quarterbacks, 21 Canadians, 20 Americans, and one Global) and 10 players on the active roster in addition to those on the one and six-game injured lists.

Depending on the composition of the roster and the number of players who are hurt, expect Winnipeg to release between 15 and 25 players on cutdown day.

Next up

The Blue Bombers open their regular season against the Ottawa Redblacks on Friday, June 10 at IG Field. It will mark the first time former offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice returns to Winnipeg since he helped the club win the Grey Cup in 2019 and will presumably see the unveiling of a new championship banner.

The game will also serve as the first half of a home-and-home between the two teams as Winnipeg travels to Ottawa in Week 2. The Redblacks overhauled virtually their entire roster after going 3-11 last year, so I expect both games to be competitive.