CFL Pass

Bombers' massive men in the middle of defensive line won't let opponents run

They are the cement blocks of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers fearsome front six and the key pieces to the CFL’s most stifling run defence.

If you’re looking for someone to enter in a foot race, these are not your guys.

But if it’s sheer power, lower body stability and the ability to take on a double team you want, look no further than the players who make up the interior of the Bombers defensive line.

So you want to run the football, you say?

Not here, not against these guys.

“They’re beasts in there,” Bombers defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “They’re aggressive. You always want to have guys like that on your team that can really make offensive co-ordinators say “Oh man, how are we gonna run the ball with these guys there?”

The guys we’re talking about are defensive tackles Drake Nevis, Steve (Stove) Richardson and Jake Thomas.

They’ve been the cornerstones of a Bombers defensive line that has allowed a (by far) league-low 65.7 rushing yards per game this season. Only one team in CFL history has allowed fewer rushing yards over a whole season — that was the Calgary Stampeders in 1995 (54.5 yards per game). The Bombers record is 72.8, set in 2003.

Opponents have repeatedly tried to run the ball against the Bombers and have often quickly abandoned the strategy.

Last week in Montreal, the Alouettes had just 40 rushing yards and stud running back Will Stanback had just two of them. Granted, the Bombers had a big lead and had stopped the run early, so the Alouettes had to pass the football and it worked out well for them in a 38-37 win.

Still, you can be sure the Alouettes intended to run the football in that game.

“You could see some frustration from their guys,” said Jeffcoat, who was injured and was watching the game. “They wanted to run the ball and Drake, Jake and Steve said ‘No, it’s not happening.’ Steve, Jake and Drake will take on two guys and go bully them back and make a tackle.”

The Bombers have an excellent defensive line, on the whole, leading the CFL in sacks with 39. Defensive end Willie Jefferson is a one-man wrecking crew, and the guys on the other side — Jeffcoat, Craig Roh, Thiadric Hansen and Jonathan Kongbo — have all been big contributors.

But the interior guys on any football team are always underrated.

“It’s underrated to average fans and maybe the media,” Bombers coach Mike O’Shea said. “Players around them understand what they do. They just don’t gather a lot of stats. These guys created a lot of plays and make a lot of plays that just don’t add up to a stat.

“Taking on a double team, we don’t track that as a league. But the work they do is very important for us. They’re strong, powerful guys who create a mess to the benefit of our football team.”

Nevis, in his fourth CFL season and third with the Bombers, has 21 tackles and two sacks this season.

“It’s really about execution,” the soft-spoken Nevis said. “The coaches give us a job to do and we hold each other up to doing our job. It’s just about everybody getting on the same page. There’s a lot of unselfish guys wanting to get the job done.”

Richardson is a pro football rookie who has identical numbers to Nevis — 21 tackles and two sacks — this season.

He’s a shorter defensive tackle — 5-foot-11 — but weighs in at 298 pounds and has a tremendous centre of gravity. Richardson is a strong candidate to be named the Bombers rookie of the year.

“We’ve got some great guys that are really good at stopping the run here and they taught me,” Richardson said. “We just know what we’re doing. One of our favourite things to do is stop the run.

“Anybody can say it, but we love the short-yardage. Second-and-one, those kinds of plays, those are the ones that really get us going. It’s basically a one-on-one, maybe even a two-on-one and you just see who wants it more.”

In his eighth season, Thomas is the longest-serving Bomber. A Canadian, he rarely starts games, but rotates in regularly. He has 13 tackles and three sacks this season.

“With those three guys on the inside and with me and (Jeffcoat) and (Roh) and (Kongbo) on the outside, pushing everything inside, we just know those guys are gonna contain the A-gaps and the B-gaps and it makes it easy for us,” Jefferson said.

“We know at the beginning of games that teams are gonna try to establish the run, just to see how we’re gonna be playing. For us to come out, game in and game out and stuff the run early, it forces teams to go to the screen or just go to the straight pass. It just makes it easier for us. We just get ready for the pass rush.”

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

AGAINST THE RUSH

Rushing yards per game allowed by CFL teams this season

Team              Rush yds

Winnipeg       65.7

Calgary           87.8

Sask                95.0

Hamilton        98.2

Edmonton      99.6

B.C.               102.2

Montreal        106.2

Toronto          119.6

Ottawa            121.4

Source: winnipegsun.com