Fans of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers can finally breathe a sigh of relief. As a result of their “Fog Bowl 2.0” win over the Calgary Stampeders, the Bombers have finally clinched a playoff spot. A pretty remarkable feat considering the adversity this team has faced. They started the season with a QB straight out of Compton.. errr College and a later suffered through an extremely rough stretch for veteran QB Matt Nichols. He was so cold during this time that fans were beginning to associate his nickname “Matty Ice” with the slump he was in. During the losing streak even the oddsmakers had shrugged this team off with a sub 3% chance of winning the Cup.
Thankfully for Bomber faithful, the team turned things around in a very big way. They’ve now won 5 games in a row and will play one of two teams (Saskatchewan and Calgary) that they’ve beaten recently in the first round of the playoffs. As a result of their uninspiring loss to Saskatchewan yesterday, the BC Lions will cross over to the East to play the Hamilton Ti-Cats.
With that settled, Winnipeg can’t affect their playoff position in their season finale in Edmonton. In my opinion, they need to use this game as a modified bye-week. Rest essential and banged up athletes in favor of giving younger players experience and allow backups to sharpen their game in case they’re needed.
Here is a list of the players I’d rest during the Blue Bombers season finale in Edmonton.
SB Weston Dressler – Of all the players I would rest Dressler would at the top of the heap. Not exactly sure why but this team rarely wins when he’s not in the lineup. He’s the one veteran receiver playing on the inside and it just seems like Matt Nichols is much more comfortable with his reliable release value in the lineup. He’s battled injuries off and on since coming to Winnipeg and they simply can’t afford to lose him right before the playoffs.
QB Matt Nichols – If you’re going to mess with his receiving core and the line in front of him I just wouldn’t want to put Matty in a position to take extra hits or lose his confidence. He’s riding a high right after by far his best game of the season. Don’t mess with that confidence in a meaningless football game.
OT Jemarcus Hardrick – Assuming Flanders is going to get the start at runningback Winnipeg will need to start a National player somewhere else. I’d leave Stanley Bryant in to protect the quarterback’s blindside and give Hardrick the night off instead.
RB Andrew Harris – Harris is one of two possible candidates for the team’s MOP award. He’s left several games this season due to injuries and let’s face it the guy takes a beating at his position over the course of a grueling 18 game schedule. Despite being in a neck and neck battle with William Powell for the lead league in rushing you gotta put the team ahead of the player.
WR Darvin Adams – Last season the Bombers faced a string of key injuries headed into the playoffs. Personally, I wouldn’t be taking any chances with the team’s most productive receiver.
MLB Adam Bighill – In all likelihood Adam Bighill will not only be the Bombers MOP and top defensive player, but he will also be named the league’s best defensive player. He had an injury scare earlier in the season and he’s one guy I certainly wouldn’t want to enter the playoffs without. Simply put, Adam Bighill is the Bomber’s defense.
S Taylor Loffler – Loffler was a surprise last-minute scratch last week ahead of a game with major playoff implications. I don’t see him bouncing back from that and starting the next week in a meaningless game. Give him an extra week and hope he’s 100% healthy for the postseason.
CB Kevin Fogg – Despite having a name which described the weather in Winnipeg Friday night, he was still the weakest link in the Bombers secondary. I would use this opportunity to take a look at an up and comer.
SB Nic Demski – Demski has been a key cog in the Bombers offense this season playing the runningback/slotback hybrid position formerly occupied by import Timothy Flanders. Like others, he’s been no stranger to the injured list over his short career. Don’t take risks with him and give an opportunity to a younger player to gain some experience.
The following are the guys who I think should see additional playing time.
QB Chris Streveler – Its generally a long road to develop into an elite CFL QB. In the limited opportunities Streveler has had in his rookie season he’s looked promising and has put himself into consideration for the team’s most outstanding rookie. If you’re going to play with a depleted offensive line it would be nice to have a QB back there with elusiveness and speed. The former receiver turned QB would benefit from another start under his belt so I say give him look.
G/T Geoff Gray – The prize of the 2017 CFL entry draft Geoff Gray has the upside to become a Canadian ratio breaker ala fellow Winnipeger Chris Walby was back in the day. I’m not saying start the guy but I would definitely rotate him in later in the game and see how he fairs. The experience will only help him coming into training camp next season. For a guy who spent a year plus in the NFL I’m not worried about nerves but what he needs more than anything are some live reps.
G Micheal Couture – The Burnaby BC native is heading into the final game of his 3rd CFL season. With Geoff Gray on the horizon, he needs an opportunity to show what he can do or risk being relegated to 6th offensive lineman purgatory for the rest of his career. Give him the start at right tackle and spell him off with Geoff Gray at times.
QB Byron Bennett – Now here’s a quarterback I admire. He’s got a similar skill set to backup QB Chris Streveler and has been making a huge impact on special teams. The guy is no stranger to wreaking havoc as he’s become one of Winnipeg best special teams cover guys. Time to reward him with some playing time at his natural position in the 4th quarter of this game.
SB Daniel Petermann – After falling in the CFL draft and being the 2nd receiver drafted by Winnipeg, Petermann came into training camp with a huge chip on his shoulder. He buoyed that to quickly moved past Rashaun Simonise on the Bombers depth chart with a gritty athletic style of play. Petermann could factor heavily into the starting receiving core discussion next year so you might as well give him some extra game film and experience.
MLB Ian Wild – I have a feeling that this will be Ian Wild’s final regular season game as a Bomber. With many players due raises, you just can’t afford to pay a backup linebacker starting linebacker money. Let him go out with some pride as the starting middle linebacker for the Bombers in Edmonton and keep Adam Bighill on ice.
DB Chris Humes – Humes comes to the CFL loaded with upside. The guy was a beast with the Arkansas State Red Wolves, recording 129 total tackles in 4 collegiate seasons. He’s been patiently waiting for an opportunity on the team’s practice roster while Tyneil Cooper failed to impress in his opportunities. At 6 feet tall with decent speed he could end up being an upgrade over Kevin Fogg down the road.
RB Timothy Flanders – Barring injured athletes Flanders has gotta be one of the unluckiest players in the CFL. On several other teams he’d be starting and likely accumulating north of a 1000 yards rushing a season. Unforetetely for him, he plays on a team that is committed to playing Canadian runningbacks. When the Bombers signed Canadian slotback Nic Demski last season to play Flanders’ hybrid position the writing was on the wall that he would have limited opportunities to play. He’s only got into one game this season and simply deserves an opportunity to get the ball into his hands.
WR Charles Nelson/Ryan Lankford – I’d start Lankford in Dressler’s spot because he would at least provide some veteran help for the starting quarterback. Charles Nelson, on the other hand, should get a look at the wideout position. He’s a potential deep threat who like Lankford has the ability to return kicks. WR Corey Washington failed impress in live games so it’s time to get a look at a fresh set of legs.
Realistically I don’t expect this number of players to rest this week but if it was up to me I’d be taking no chances in a meaningless game. The Edmonton Eskimos have nothing to play for so you can bet that players are going to be out there playing aggressively trying to make statement plays to impress whoever coaches that squad next season. The way things are going they might be auditioning in from of their next head coach, Paul LaPolice.