BOMBSHELLS: Changes could be in the offing as Bombers’ place-kicking concerns reach critical level

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It would not be at all surprising to see a new place-kicker in action for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers next Saturday when they take on the Elks in Edmonton.

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Rookie Marc Liegghio has simply not been good enough and he cost the Bombers five points by missing two converts and a makeable 48-yard field goal attempt in Saturday’s game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

As it turns out, those five points were not necessary, as the Bombers won 33-9, but no team in the CFL can afford to have such inconsistent place-kicking.

Liegghio made all three of his 32-yard convert attempts in the second half.

“It’s tough,” Bombers coach Mike O’Shea said of Liegghio after Saturday’s game. “On a personal level you don’t like to see a guy struggle, but I thought he bounced back. He hit some at the end, which is good. That shows great growth, in my mind. He had a tough couple of plays out there and then he manages to get it together and make some kicks. That is part of the process for any young kicker. He’ll be very good, I know that.”

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Liegghio is likely to hold onto his job as the Bombers punter, but there’s a chance newcomer Ali Mourtada will also be in the lineup next week. Mourtada, a 31-year-old American, has just completed his quarantine and will be in practice this week. If he performs well, he could handle the place-kicking duties in Edmonton.

Many Bombers fans have wondered if the team will go after free-agent Lirim Hajrullahu, a former Bomber who has been bouncing around the NFL in recent years, but it seems that is not a realistic possibility.

COMING UP BIGGIE

The Bombers have the luxury of employing the two men who have been named most outstanding defensive player in the CFL since 2018.

This year, so far, you’d have to give the nod to linebacker Adam Bighill (the 2018 winner) as the front-runner for the award, but defensive end Willie Jefferson (the 2019 winner) isn’t far behind.

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Bighill has 36 tackles, an interception, and a sack through six games and has been all over the field making plays for the Bombers.

Saskatchewan Roughriders WR Kian Schaffer-Baker jumps over Winnipeg Blue Bombers LB Adam Bighill, who pulled in an interception, during the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.
Saskatchewan Roughriders WR Kian Schaffer-Baker jumps over Winnipeg Blue Bombers LB Adam Bighill, who pulled in an interception, during the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Photo by KEVIN KING /Winnipeg Sun

Jefferson has nine tackles, four sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles and wreaks havoc on almost every play, getting his hands on passes and in the face of opposing quarterbacks with regularity.

Bighill, 32, is definitely having more impact than he did last season, when his tackling numbers were down considerably.

“To be honest, I always play with a chip on my shoulder,” Bighill said after Saturday’s game. “This season, I had 16 months of training to come into the season and be the best I could be. I’ve done that and I’m letting all that work that I put in show on the field and what kind of player I am and what I’m capable of. I feel like I can’t be stopped out there because of the work I put in, the preparation I put in, and that’s the mentality I play with. I feel like I can do this as long as I want to put the work at it.”

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MCGUIRE’S HAT TRICK

Sean McGuire has been with the Bombers since the beginning of the 2019 season, learning the CFL game, and earning a promotion from third-string quarterback in his first year to backup in 2021.

Until the Labour Day Classic in Regina last week, he had not had much impact on the team’s fortunes, but all that changed in a hurry.

Running the short-yardage offence, McGuire scored two touchdowns in Regina (his first two in the CFL) and then added three more in Saturday’s Banjo Bowl, quickly becoming the league’s leader in major scores.

“I thought Canada was a hockey country,” Bombers starting quarterback Zach Collaros said.

“Like, how did everybody not throw their hats on the field. The hat-trick. You know?”

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Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB Sean McGuire (right) celebrates his second rushing touchdown of the game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders during the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg with RB Andrew Harris on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB Sean McGuire (right) celebrates his second rushing touchdown of the game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders during the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg with RB Andrew Harris on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Photo by KEVIN KING /Winnipeg Sun

McGuire, who was a star at Western Illinois during his college career, also completed a 50-yard pass to Nic Demski in Saturday’s game, surprising the Riders on what looked like another short-yardage situation.

He has thrown only four passes in his CFL career and has completed three of them, for 67 yards.

“I’m really happy for Sean,” Collaros said. “Sean’s a great guy, great football player. He works his butt off. I think he’s going to be a great player in this league. And he’s a tough dude. So I know when they take me out and put him in, he’s going to get the yard, whatever the situation is. We called a pass play for him tonight, and I was already walking down the sideline knowing it was going to be a completion.”

IN PRAISE OF ZACH

Collaros has been asked numerous times this season how confident he feels just having a defence that refuses to give up touchdowns and second-half points, on his side.

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After Collaros’ best performance of the season on Saturday, I asked Bighill how much fun it is to watch the quarterback throwing darts and leading touchdown drives with regularity.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB Zach Collaros throws against the Saskatchewan Roughriders during the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB Zach Collaros throws against the Saskatchewan Roughriders during the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Photo by KEVIN KING /Winnipeg Sun

“It’s awesome,” Bighill said. “When we took our shots, we definitely made the most of them. There’s nothing like seeing explosive plays from the offence, big chunk plays, big catches down the field, hearing our cannon go off. That’s a momentum boost, that’s energy for sure and I love seeing those huge plays and I love seeing them celebrate out there.”

DIFFERENT LOOKS

Bighill dropped back so far into coverage on Saturday that it looked like he was playing safety or halfback when he picked off a Cody Fajardo pass in the first half.

It looked like it because essentially that’s what the middle linebacker was doing. It’s all part of the way the Bombers move players around in order to confuse the opposition, a strategy that has worked beautifully so far this season.

“It’s a bit of what we can do to show different looks and be able to play multiple defences without substituting,” Bighill said. “Obviously I pride myself as an athlete and a player to be able to play safety and play different positions, or rush the passer. If you can give multiple looks and not have to substitute, defences don’t really know what’s coming. That’s one of those examples of me being able to be more versatile and go back and make some plays.”

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

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