BOMBSHELLS: Bombers defence could get stingier with return of key players

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For the first time this season, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers should have the exact defensive lineup in action that coaches envisioned when training camp wrapped up.

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When the Bombers take on the BC Lions in Vancouver on Friday, they are likely to have defensive tackle Steven Richardson and weak-side linebacker Kyrie Wilson — both starters on the 2019 Grey Cup-winning team — in the lineup.

“To get a chance to finally have the lineup that you had set at the beginning of the year back, I think that’s just gonna be very helpful for us,” Bombers defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall said after the team practised at the University of Manitoba on Tuesday.

“The guys that have replaced them have done a great job and provided a lot of depth for us. Everyone has made a major contribution for our success and that makes us tough to defeat when you have that kind of depth and that kind of unity.”

Richardson is a run-stopping specialist, who should help a team that has been surprisingly porous against the run, while Wilson is well-rounded linebacker who was a key member of the defence in 2019.

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“He’s certainly another piece,” Bombers coach Mike O’Shea said. “The type of season he had in 2019, he played very well for us and I thought he was on the verge of being absolutely outstanding.

“He was probably a few plays shy of getting a lot of recognition and having people understand how good of a football player he is. Any time you can add a piece back that’s that talented, with a year under his belt working with our guys in this system, it’s important.”

Linebacker Kyrie Wilson breaks to the ball during Winnipeg Blue Bombers practice on the University of Manitoba campus in Winnipeg on Sept. 27, 2021.
Linebacker Kyrie Wilson breaks to the ball during Winnipeg Blue Bombers practice on the University of Manitoba campus in Winnipeg on Sept. 27, 2021. Photo by Kevin King /Winnipeg Sun

Wilson, 28, had 63 defensive tackles, three sacks, an interception and a touchdown in 2019. He has been out since training camp because of a hip flexor injury.

“This is my first time missing any length of time,” Wilson said. “The most I missed before was maybe one game in college. This is the most I’ve ever missed playing football.”

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The Bombers have done just fine without Richardson and Wilson, putting up a 6-1 record through seven games, but things can always be better. Casey Sayles and Ricky Walker have filled in for Richardson, while Canadian Jesse Briggs and American Jontrelle Rocquemore have been getting the playing time at weak-side linebacker in place of Wilson.

“I just want to keep on doing what we’ve been doing already — playing fast, being physical and running to the football,” Wilson said. “Keeping up the energy and doing what I have to do, that’s best for the team.

“It’s been tough, especially on game days, cause you just get that feeling of ‘I wish I was out there with the boys.’ But you’ve just got to be patient when you’re going through a little adversity and just trust the process. I’m feeling good, pretty well recovered, and it’s good to be back out there running with the team.”

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Wilson said he definitely expects to play on Friday against the 4-3 Lions, and Richardson said the same thing on Monday, but that decision ultimately will be left up to Bombers athletic therapist Al Couture and O’Shea.

Wilson said there’s just something special about the team’s defensive group this year.

“It’s just how everybody plays together, man,” he said. “I feel like we’re even closer than in 2019. Everybody’s just starting to understand the defence a lot better and this is like a family, man. I like how everybody is talking on the field, and no matter who’s up, they’re ready to go. It starts in the locker room, watching film, having fun in there, and then bringing it out to the field and playing together.”

ALFORD FULL OF CONFIDENCE

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DeAundre Alford has been full of surprises this year.

An unknown from a small, Div. III U.S. college (Tusculum in Tennessee), Alford not only won a job in training camp with the Bombers but has started every game at the boundary corner, one of the hardest positions in the CFL.

He has faced some of the CFL’s top receivers already and will be up against Lions speedster Lucky Whitehead — a most outstanding player candidate — on Friday night.

Alford is coming off his best CFL game on Sept. 18, in Edmonton, where he had two interceptions, a forced fumble, and a touchdown.

“Me being in the boundary, I’m gonna get work,” Alford said Tuesday. “That’s the hot side and that’s my job. A lot of people don’t know who I am but obviously my team does. I’m just trying to put the league on notice. Although I’m a rookie, I’ve got a lot of vets around me that help out with my game and they’ve just contributed to my success so far.

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“Any receiver I face I go in with confidence.”

With veteran star quarterback Michael Reilly slinging balls for the Lions, this could well be Alford’s greatest test.

“I feel like we’re very prepared,” he said. “We know what type of team they are, we know they love big plays, so we’ll eliminate those, win on the 50-50 balls and it’s a very great chance we’ll come out victorious.”

LOVE FROM GRIFFIN, GA.

Alford, 23, hails from the city of Griffin, Ga., about 40 minutes south of Atlanta.

He clearly loves his hometown and says the feeling is mutual as he makes a name for himself in pro football.

“They show a lot of love, week after week,” he said. “They post at me, my family, my peers back home in the United States. It’s just so much love and I’m thankful and blessed to just have that coming from where I come from. Growing up in Griffin, Ga., the whole city is behind me and I’ve just got to keep on putting on for my city.”

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Alford said his success is for all the other athletes from his town who may not have had the same opportunities over the years.

“There’s so much talent in Griffin, Ga., and a lot of guys my age and even older didn’t get the opportunity that I’m getting,” he said. “I don’t just play for myself. I play for my parents and my family and my whole city, cause I know they’re praying to be in my position. I play for everybody and I just love my city and they return the game back.”

COMING INTO HIS OWN

Hall hopes the Bombers will be better against the run than they have been (106.6 yards per game, which is eighth in the league) now that Richardson is back in the lineup.

“He’s just coming into his own,” Hall said. “He’s missed being out there and he’s just a load. He plays with leverage, he’s stronger than heck and he’s still learning the game. Just to see him move around these last couple days at practice, I know I’m happy and I know he’s ecstatic about it. Just looking forward to see him playing again.”

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‘PLEASING’ KICKER

Ali Mourtada will get another chance to be the Bombers place-kicker on Friday, even though he missed all three of his field-goal attempts in the last game against Edmonton.

O’Shea has had the 31-year-old American’s back ever since that game and believes Mourtada will come through when kicking in BC Place this week.

“Watching him kick, it’s pleasing,” O’Shea said. “He’s a pro, he’s not a young guy. He approaches every day with intent to be excellent. If something doesn’t go right, he understands what it is and technically works to fix it. It’s all pleasing.”

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

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