Bombers expect tough test from desperate Lions

Winnipeg defenders throttled B.C.’s offence in a Week 9 win, sacking quarterback Michael Reilly five times while limiting the Lions to 177 passing yards in a 30-9 win in Vancouver.

“We played Winnipeg football,” said Bombers all-star defensive end Willie Jefferson Friday. “When we had the opportunities (we) kept the ball out of (receiver Bryan) Burnham’s hands in big moments — second down, second and long — (and) got Mike Reilly to throw the ball fast… but also played good defence on the receivers and got Lucky (Whitehead) out of the game early.”

The Blue Bombers held Burnham to 82 yards on seven receptions and caught a big break when B.C.’s other deep threat, Whitehead, was injured and did not factor prominently in the game.

Whitehead had surgery to repair a broken hand and is not expected to play Saturday.

Nevertheless, Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea expects the Lions to be a difficult test.

“It’s up to us as a group to expect the best from every opponent when they come in (here) or when we go on the road,” said O’Shea, whose 9-1 team could clinch the West Division title with a victory.

“You always expect their best with (head coach) Rick Campbell’s teams, they always play hard. Always, always play hard and with a Mike Reilly-led team, they’re always capable winning football games, right? Their defence is a good defence — they take the ball away at a pretty good clip.”

VETERAN ADVICE: Jefferson, a Texas product, was asked to explain his approach to staying warm when the weather gets colder in Canada. 

“For practice most definitely bundle up (and) try to stay warm,” said Jefferson. “This isn’t the time to… be tough. We’re just trying to get to through the plays, execute our plays and get out of here… But when it comes down to the game we don’t have, like, little jackets on the sidelines, but if you’re not on the field, stand by the heaters as close as you can…

“Do not take your helmet off because if you take your helmet off, it’s gonna get cold and it’s gonna be hard to put it back on. It’s gonna be stiff when you put it back on for that first 10-15 seconds until it thaws out.”

<p>Bomber Asotui Eli (centre) at practice in Winnipeg on Friday.</p>
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Bomber Asotui Eli (centre) at practice in Winnipeg on Friday.

RESPECT FOR THE D: Winnipeg has allowed only 126 points in 10 games, by far the best total in the CFL.

B.C.’s Reilly said it’s hard to match the level of play coming from the Blue Bombers defence.

“They’re just consistent,” Reilly told reporters Thursday. “They consistently bring it every single game, right? I think that’s the biggest thing. Pretty much every team that you play against in this league always has the ability to come out and have a stellar night, it’s just hard to put together every single time that you get on the field and they have done a great job of that.”

Reilly has special praise for Winnipeg’s defensive front, led by Jefferson and fellow defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat. 

“Their front is probably the best in the league and everything kind of goes through them,” said Reilly. “They set the tone and the tempo for the rest of their defence. Their secondary is very good, but their secondary also relies on their front to be able to get pressure so they don’t have to cover for very long.

“It’s not a knock on anybody. It’s just how that defence is built, and for good reason. They’re very good at it.”

HISTORY LESSON: Jefferson’s seven-year CFL career started his career in Edmonton and moved to Saskatchewan before he landed with the Blue Bombers two years ago.

He’s played on a number of excellent defensive units but he said the current squad setting records in Winnipeg is superior.

“I don’t want to say they are better than the teammates that I had before but the teammates that I have now, we’re more together, we talk more, communicate better and we understand each other’s game,” he said, “and the way that we play defence, we play as one. We don’t play as 12 individuals… We all want to get to the ball, we all want to make plays and we all want to make coach Richie (Hall) smile in the press box.”

WALKING WOUNDED: Winnipeg listed offensive tackle Jermarcus Hardrick (hip) as questionable for Saturday but he appeared to be moving well during Friday’s walkthrough.

Hardrick did not play last week in Edmonton and his absence forced guard Pat Neufeld to move into his spot with reserve Tui Eli taking Neufeld’s old position.

Hardrick will be a game-time decision.
Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

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