Here are my thoughts following Saturday night's preseason tilt between Winnipeg and Calgary:
1. Though this may come across as an ultra-contrarianist perspective, my analysis of the starting offensive line put forth by the Winnipeg Blue Bomber on Saturday night was generally positive. Though the offensive line gave up three sacks early, I found most of the Calgary pass rush to be strictly a result of scheme. Though the Bomber offensive line is in charge of maximizing their pass protection against complex blitz packages, the truth is this: it’s the preseason – teams very rarely show off the intricacies of their playbook in mid-June. Man-for-man, the Bomber offensive line performed relatively well. Scheme recognition will come through coaching as the year progresses and the fact that Winnipeg employs the CFL’s best offensive line coach in Bob Wylie will go a long way. So long as the five starters in the trenches have the physical tools and skills they need to protect Drew Willy this season, the Blue Bomber passing attack should be just fine. Speaking of Willy, I’d peg two of Calgary’s three first half sacks on him. Both plays saw Calgary send more blitzers than Winnipeg had blockers. When this happens, it’s the QB’s job to recognize the play at hand and get the ball out as soon as possible.
2. The fact that Patrick Neufeld stayed on with the 2nd offensive line group at guard (albeit at LG instead of RG) is, to me, a strong indication he’ll be starting the season at the RG spot. With that, I predict the week one starters along the offensive line will be (L-R) January-Greaves-Morley-Neufeld-Jones/Knapp. Look for Goossen to take on a starting role at centre around the midway point of the season, with Morley and Neufeld bouncing out to the RG and RT spots, respectively.
3. Despite his poor first half reads in the pass rushing department, I was impressed with the play of Drew Willy. Though his final numbers weren’t sexy in just over one half of work (14/23 for 172 yards), Willy’s numbers would have been significantly more impressive had it not been for the four drops between WRs Jason Barnes, Donovan Kemp and Jaymar Johnson (in my estimation, Willy could have gone 17/23 for 250 yards and possibly 2 TDs). Willy was able to get through his reads quicker than he did against Toronto. He moved the pocket, he continues to throw with authority and is relatively accurate. Based on what I’ve seen in the preseason I expect he’ll be successful this season as the starter of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I don’t expect he’ll win an all-star spot, but I believe Willy will provide the Bombers with the best quarterbacking they’ve enjoyed since the 2007 season.
4. Robert Marve failed to live up to his hype from the Bombers’ first preseason game, going 2/4 for 24 yards in the final six minutes against Calgary. Marve is still very much worth keeping around as a developmental pivot, but the comparisons to Doug Flutie should be put on hold for now.
5. I believe the opening drive of the second half will prove to be a microcosm of the 2014 Winnipeg Blue Bomber offense. Following a 6-yard carry by Nic Grigsby, Willy dropped back to pass on 9 consecutive plays, driving the field on a series of quick, concise passes behind excellent pass protection. To me, this is how Willy can maximize his success in the CFL – throwing almost exclusively short- to mid-level strikes to sure-handed receivers, choosing his two to three moments per game to go long (as witnessed on his 40-yard toss to Clarence Denmark). It’s not as flashy an offensive style as those found in Saskatchewan or Hamilton, but I believe it will get the job done.
6. Brian Brohm had a better outing in Calgary than he did last Monday, going 4/7 for 62 yards and a touchdown in the 3rd quarter. Blue Bomber GM Kyle Walters gave up a very valuable 2015 4th round pick to pry Brohm away from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats this past off-season, so it was encouraging to see the former 2nd round NFL selection take a step in his progression. Though we’ll have to wait to find out how things will play out, I expect Brohm to be named the back-up QB of the 2014 Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
7. Max Hall had an abysmal game on Saturday, going 3/7 for 29 yards and an interception. Up by three points late in the 4th, Hall made the ill-advised decision to attempt to muscle a pass into the end zone as he was being hit by a Calgary pass rusher. The result of the play was the easiest interception of veteran DB Dee Webb’s career and a huge shift in momentum in favor of the Stamps. Worse yet, Hall allegedly defended his decision in his post-game interview with Free Press writer Paul Wiecek. At this point in Hall’s professional career he shouldn’t be defending such blatantly stupid decisions.
8. Stampeder KR/SB/RB Jock Sanders was dynamic against the Bombers on Saturday night. I was stunned when the ex-Rider didn’t get more attention in free agency this off-season (as seen on my tweet, pictured below), but he showed tonight just how dangerous and versatile he can be on offense and special teams.
10. I’ve become a big Matthias Goossen fan. This kid won’t be the next Dominic Picard, but he could easily become the next Angus Reid – smart, determined, skilled, the consummate professional. He’ll be ready to start by the midseason mark and I’d love to see him in blue and gold for the next decade.
11. Korey Banks had a very disappointing preseason. The 10-year CFL veteran was brought in to lead the defense but has done little to impress so far. He’ll need to step up come the regular season in a big way.
12. The Winnipeg Blue Bomber defenders need to learn to tackle. Period. It is my belief that many players take the preseason as an opportunity to do away with technically-sound, wrap-up tackles, looking instead to lay out huge hits as a means of drawing attention to their play. This must change by week one of the regular season or this team will look silly on both defense and special teams.
13. As good as Donovan Kemp was against Toronto was how miserable he was against the Stampeders. Kemp was on the receiving end of both of Robert Marve’s big strikes against Toronto, including a 55-yard long bomb and the TD that put the Blue Bombers within two points of the Argos in the dying minutes of the game. On Saturday night in Calgary, however, Kemp was poor, dropping two well-thrown Drew Willy passes including a go route down the right sideline that may have resulted in a TD. Needless to say, Kent’s stock dropped significantly.
14. Jaymar Johnson had a much better outing than he did against Toronto, making five catches for 59 yards. It may still not be enough for Johnson to survive final cuts with the likes of Denmark, Moore and Kelly ahead of him in the Blue Bomber import (international) receiver ranks, but he showed the most noticeable improvement from the first to second preseason games as anyone on the field.
15. As I forgot to include this observation following last week’s game vs. Toronto, I figured I’d include it here: Blue Bomber RB Carl Volny is a Canadian I’ve always felt had the physical tools needed to take on a fairly substantial role in the Blue Bomber offense since he was drafted in the 5th round of the 2011 CFL draft. His issue, as has always been the case with Volny, is his inability to hold onto the football. I can remember reading a comment from Volny last season stating he wants to the next big name in the recent wave of Canadian ball carriers to have success in the CFL. If Volny ever learns how to secure the football, I’ll take his ambitions seriously. Until then, he can play special teams.
16. Paris Cotton had an admirable game in Calgary, rattling off 58 yards off just five carries and making two catches for 24 yards. Though he’s played second fiddle to Nic Grigsby through much of the preseason due to Grigsby’s excellent pass blocking skills, Cotton was on fire in Calgary, running hard and making some great catches out of the backfield. The Bombers must find a way to keep Cotton – even if it means cutting 2013 Blue Bomber Special Teams Player of the Year Will Ford.
17. Brett Carter has been a machine in the preseason. The Winnipeg Rifles alumnus has caught four of the six passes thrown his way this preseason, with Carter drawing pass interference calls on both of the incompletions. Though I can’t speak to the way in which Carter has played away from the football (blocking is a huge portion of a slotback’s game), there’s no questioning how good the local kid’s hands are.
18. Rene Stephan will make the 2014 Winnipeg Blue Bomber final roster by virtue of the injuries to Canadian linebackers Jesse Briggs, Aram Eisho and Graig Newman alone. With that being said, Stephan, a 2012 4th round pick out of Harding, doesn’t possess the talent to be on the roster of a professional football team. Stephan struggles to assert himself physically on defense, while his abysmal play on a Brett Maher punt caused it to be blocked. I expect he’ll be let go as soon as Walters can reinforce the roster’s Canadian linebacking depth.
19. Graig Newman’s right leg injury looked terrible. I expect him to be out for a very long while recovering from what could easily turn out to be a torn ACL. Newman signed with Winnipeg in the off-season with hopes of taking on a larger role with a CFL team and was said to be converting as many Saskatchewanian friends and family members as he could to becoming Blue Bomber fans. I wish him a speedy recovery. If you’d like to do the same, his twitter handle is @G_Newms.
20. Anthony Parker was the third overall selection in the 2011 CFL draft, selected by Calgary one spot ahead of Jade Etienne. Though the Parker selection has received much less criticism than the selection of Etienne due to his high pre-draft ranking, Parker continues to disappoint with the Stampeders, making just one catch on Saturday night while dropping another.
21. Sean Blake, who was brought in to replace now-retired long snapper Chris Cvetkovic this off-season, had two bad snaps in Calgary. The first saw punter Mike Renaud forced to pick the ball off the turf to get a rushed boot away in the 2nd quarter, with the second forcing holder Brian Brohm to make an adjustment mid-hold on a Brett Maher 4th quarter field goal. The reality is simple: this is professional football. There are no bad long snaps in professional football. If Blake can’t do the job, someone new must be brought in.
22. The Blue Bombers dropped last season’s road preseason game in Hamilton by a score of 52-0. Last night in Calgary, the Bombers dropped a 23-20 contest to a very tough Stampeder team. This is a new Blue Bomber team, folks. It’s time to get excited.
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