BOMBSHELLS: Bombers QB Nichols expects first-place showdown with Stampeders to have a 'playoff-type feel'
It’s interesting how even people on the same side can have such different perspectives.
Take, for example, Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea and starting quarterback Matt Nichols, who were both asked about the importance of Thursday’s first-place showdown with the Calgary Stampeders.
O’Shea, predictably, wants nothing to do with blowing a meeting of two 5-2 teams in early August out of proportion.
“Winning or losing this game … it’s one game and it doesn’t make or break a season,” O’Shea said. “The season is so young. Both teams are both going in expecting to win and one of us will and one of us won’t but neither side will ever say this is more than what it is. This does not determine your season by any stretch of the imagination.”
Calling it early in the season is a bit of a stretch. This is Game 8 and Game 9 is the midway point.
It’s also the start of a five-game run of games against West Division opponents for the Bombers and these give games could go a long way toward determining where everyone finishes in the CFL standings.
Nichols sure seems to get that.
““It’s a first-place matchup,” Nichols said. “I told the guys a couple times this week that at any juncture of the season you want to be playing a game to put yourself in first place, especially when you’re playing at home. It’s one of those games where it can have a playoff-type feel, which allows you to feel those feelings before you even get to the playoffs. It’s been pretty serious around here all week and guys are preparing for a big time battle.”
JEFFCOAT OUT, KONGBO UP
The Bombers have the best rush defence in the CFL and that could be a key for them again against a Stampeders team that is one of the worst in the league at moving the football on the ground.
Winnipeg’s defensive line has been fearsome all season at plugging the holes along the line and if they can do that again Thursday, ends Willie Jefferson and Craig Roh should have plenty of chances to get after quarterback Nick Arbuckle.
“We say this: ‘Stop the run and then have some fun,’” Roh said Wednesday.
“You can’t have fun if it’s second and three or second and two, then you’re still stopping the run.”
The Bombers will be without starting defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, who has been placed on the six-game injured list. He’ll be replaced by 2019 first-round draft pick Jonathan Kongbo, who made his CFL debut last week in Toronto.
“He’s a guy who’s progressing really well and is still a young guy who is figuring out a lot of stuff, but very, very promising,” Roh said.
“We’ve just got to step our game up collectively because (Jeffcoat’s) a guy who’s making a ton of plays on the field. Both Willie and myself need to step up as the veteran guys here and have a good performance.”
Kongbo has learned a lot from Jeffcoat already and hopes to put that to good use on Thursday.
“He’s a great leader on our D-line and we’re gonna be missing him on the field but he’s been doing a great job getting with me, making sure that I know everything that he knows, as far as the nuances of the position,” Kongbo said.
GRANT ON THE RUN
Janarion Grant, come on down.
Grant will be the latest player to get a chance at returning kickoffs and punts for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers when he makes his Blue and Gold debut on Thursday night.
The Bombers started the season with Charles Nelson in the role, but after he got hurt both Kenny Walker and Mike Jones got turns.
Now the job falls to Grant, a 25-year-old who was signed by the Bombers in late July after he was cut by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He started the season as the returner for the Baltimore Ravens of the NFL last season but was released after fumbling twice in two games.
“The first and most important thing to do back there as the kick returner is to catch the ball,” Grant said Wednesday. “After that, you just let your God-given talent go to work.”
Grant was signed on July 23 and spent two weeks on the practice roster. He watched the Bombers play the Tiger-Cats on TV on July 26 and then was on the sidelines when the Bombers lost to the Argos last Thursday in Toronto.
It’s not much of a learning curve, but the Bombers coaching staff clearly wants to see what he can do.
“Explosiveness, play-making abilities … that’s what I do,” Grant said. “I don’t talk highly about myself. I just go out there and let my talent do the talking for me.”
O’Shea seems OK with that.
“The film on him says he’s a good returner,” O’Shea said. “We’re just gonna plug him in there and see what happens.”
JONES, MASTON TO DEBUT
Among the other lineup changes are the additions of linebacker Korey Jones and defensive back Mercy Maston.
Both are veteran international CFL players, with Jones having played 65 games (63 with Edmonton) and Maston having played 19 games (all with Edmonton).
Jones, who has 103 career defensive tackles and 44 special teams tackles, will play special teams and back up at weak-side linebacker, while Maston will back up Chris Humes at field halfback and play in some special packages.
“Korey and Mercy have both played,” O’Shea said. “What I like about them is they’ve done it before so they are not going to get into situations that they’ve not seen or don’t know how to react to. They’re gonna make good decisions and you know they’re gonna play hard and enjoy being out there.”
Maston was just signed by the Bombers on Sunday after starting halfback Brandon Alexander was placed on the six-game injured list.
He hasn’t had much time with the playbook but doesn’t seem to care.
“Right off the bat — it’s a nice way to get in there,” Maston said.
“I’ve got experience so the best way to do it is to get in there get right with it.
“It’s a copy-cat league. There’s only nine teams and it’s all the same at the end of the day.”