BOMBSHELLS: Comparisons to 2018 team not welcome in Bomberland
You can be sure Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea spent countless hours during the off-season looking at ways to improve his team.
What he has no interest in is comparing the 2018 squad to the one that will take the field in Week 1 of the CFL season on Saturday night at B.C. Place against the B.C. Lions.
“I don’t,” said O’Shea, who put his team through the paces after cuts were made over the weekend. “If I were to answer another way, it’s too early to do that. In truth, I don’t think I would bother doing that. That would be a long study and kind of a waste of time, because these are the guys that we’ve got and these are the guys we’re going to win with.”
That being said, O’Shea is encouraged with the group of players heading into a new campaign.
“There’s a lot I like,” O’Shea said. “Overall, we’ve increased our team speed. Our guys are going to be ready. We lost a little bit of leadership, but we’ve also put some back up. It’s different voices, which is always interesting. A fresh perspective in the dressing room on how they think that things are going. It all bodes well. We’re going to be a strong team.
“You can always get better. We didn’t finish where we wanted to, so of course we’re going to strive to get better. It is very difficult to compare 2018 to 2019 because we haven’t done anything as a team yet. But, I like our talent level. It’s good. We’ve got a lot of sharp guys in the room. Physically, we’re pretty good that way, in terms of speed and size and everything like that. We’re always trying to get better and there’s no reason to believe that we won’t be.”
The Blue Bombers have made a steady progression on the guidance of O’Shea and general manager Kyle Walters.
Last season, the Blue Bombers won a playoff game, but were eliminated in the West Division final by the Calgary Stampeders, who went on to capture the Grey Cup.
But how does this group build on last season and take another step forward?
“Stick with what you believe in and what you believe has allowed us to progress,” O’Shea said. “Try not to deviate too much from the plan.”
Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols echoed those sentiments.
“I don’t know. I guess time will tell with that. I don’t like to talk about last year’s team too much,” said Nichols. “This year is this year’s team and we have high expectations, we expect to be better than we were last year. We have the talent to be better than we were last year. All that stuff is fun to talk about, but we need to go out and play good on game day week in and week out and put ourselves in the position we want to be in.”
Blue Bombers running back Andrew Harris is feeling encouraged about the group, but wasn’t ready to make any bold proclamations.
“I look at last year and I wholeheartedly felt near the end of the season that that was the year. As much as you want to win the Grey Cup, and you say that’s the goal, you don’t really feel that wholeheartedly until you get into the thick of things,” said Harris. “So, I definitely have optimism that we have the potential to be that team but to say this is the year right now … obviously that’s the goal but it’s just too early to say that. There’s still a lot of work to be done, there’s still so much that can happen. The biggest thing is to have that goal in mind and just working towards it and making sure you have the right guys around to get it done.”
Blue Bombers defensive back Winston Rose isn’t about to provide any bulletin-board material as he makes his return to B.C. this week.
Rose was back working out at boundary corner, which is where he’s expected to start this season for the Blue Bombers after suiting up in 19 games with the Lions last season, including the playoffs (making 18 starts).
“I can’t wait. Go back to the team I was just playing for last year. I’m excited,” said Rose. “Nothing special. Like I said, I’m not trying to make it about me. There are no hard feelings. It’s a business, I’m on a new team. There’s no more B.C. Lions, it’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers for Winston. A new number too, now.”
As for the opportunity to contribute to a reshaped secondary, Rose is eager to make an impact.
“My expectation is just do my job,” said Rose. “I want to make it a team thing and contribute so we can win that Grey Cup. That’s the biggest thing for me, I want to win that Cup.”
That’s a great place to start, but Rose is a playmaker and part of doing his job is to make plays.
“If it falls in my hands, any gifts that come my way, I’m willing to take,” said Rose. “My strength is my quickness, my ball skills and pretty much my speed.”
RECEIVERS COMING TOGETHER
Chris Matthews, one of the Blue Bombers’ prized acquisitions in free agency, wasn’t a full participant in the team’s workout Tuesday, but he remains a candidate to suit up in the opener this weekend.
“He’s close. He’s really close,” said O’Shea, who is always optimistic when it comes to injuries. “We’ll give him another day and see … We’ll see if that puts him on our roster or not. He’s doing quite well.”
Because the Blue Bombers have a bye in Week 2, it’s possible they hold out Matthews for an extra week just to get him up to full speed.
On the flip side, he would have that additional time to heal up again if he finds a way to get himself in position to be in the lineup for the season opener.
At this stage of the week, it’s too early to tell which way O’Shea might be leaning.
With Matthews sidelined since the end of May, the Blue Bombers’ first-team offence featured both Lucky Whitehead and Kenny Lawler in starting roles along with Darvin Adams, Nic Demski, and Drew Wolitarsky.
If Matthews can play, it would push one of Lawler or Whitehead – who showcased his explosive speed throughout training camp – out of the starting lineup.
Speaking of injuries, Blue Bombers 2019 first-rounder Jonathan Kongbo (who was chosen fifth overall) was taking part in some drills on Tuesday as he continues to work his way back from a knee injury.
The initial timeline for a potential return for Kongbo was mid-June to early July, so he appears to be on schedule.
Kongbo started 17 of the 30 games he suited up in for the University of Tennessee Volunteers of the NCAA, finishing with 51 tackles and two interceptions.