"Great" schedule the Bombers ended up with this pre-season. A week leading up to the first pre-season game, on a Monday, then 4 days leading into the second pre-season game on the following Saturday. Then 2 weeks to prepare for the season opener on June 26.
Here are some thoughts following a careful review of the pre-season opener against the Argonauts, heading into the pre-season finale in Calgary this Saturday.
The top 2 QB's in Monday's game by a mile played for the Argonauts. Trevor Harris and Mitchell Gale both looked very comfortable and ready to play if the Argos need them. Perhaps an unfair comparison for Bomber QB's, all of whom are joining a new coaching staff/regime, and all joining a new organization except for Max Hall.
Drew Willy looked poised in the pocket, made good decisions and stepped up or got out of the pocket when he needed to, no hesitation. Most importantly, he kept his eyes downfield and his receivers active when he was on the move. Willy also showed a willingness to keep the ball on the zone read and turn the corner for a first down, important to keep the defense off-balance, allowing Paris Cotton the chance to run at hesitant defenders.
The biggest negative for Willy was his accuracy. On some throws, that could be the result of miscommunication with receivers which should improve heading into the regular season with a regular crew of receivers, and some of it is likely on Willy. To take a positive out of the negative, he kept the ball out of the defenders hands as well as his teammates hands.
Max Hall had a rough night. Still has the happy feet in the pocket, which takes velocity off his throws and challenges his accuracy. Ran a couple bad zone reads where he needed to read the end coming hard inside and keep the ball, rollout and pass or run around the edge, instead he sent his tailback on a suicide mission, and the Bombers lost ground.
Hall was 3 of 7, one drop by a receiver, one completion that was badly underthrown and snagged off the turf by Brett Carter. The other incompletions were an overthrow into double coverage (aka a good overthrow!), an underthrow/miscommunication with Carter on a route he didn't break off, and an underthrown deep ball.
Brian Brohm also had a rough night. Probably has the strongest pure arm of the Bomber QB's, Brohm and Marve would be close, but poor pocket presence and zero willingness to move around or out of the pocket other than on designed rollouts. Brohm also had a bad zone read where he should have kept the ball.
Brohm made one great throw which showed why he's been so highly touted since he was a high schooler, a bullet through a tight window on 2nd and 10 that would have been a first down if not for a Jaymar Johnson drop. Otherwise, Brohm was a combination of inaccurate and wild, you can't expect a football receiver to catch a 90 mph fastball like the one he fired at Aaron Kelly on a slant on the Bombers final possession of the 3rd quarter.
Robert Marve led a great touchdown drive to close the game for the Blue Bomber offense. It was a 6 play drive, 5 designed pass plays, 1 run play. Marve scrambled on two occasions, once getting out of bounds with a yard, and once scrambling for a first down on second and 16, including the head first dive for the sticks.
The star of the drive was Marve's arm. He started with a bomb that hit Donavon Kemp in stride. Each Bomber QB tossed the same seam route at least once, Marve was the only QB who hit his receiver in stride. Marve's second throw was a perfect dart into a window bordered by the sideline and a defender to Jaymar Johnson just beyond the first down marker on 2nd and long. Two perfect throws, perfect. His final throw was a perfect back shoulder toss to Kemp for a 7 yard touchdown following the 2nd and long scramble. Unfortunately, Marve and Aaron Woods couldn't connect on a 2 point conversion to tie, Marve was blitzed and underthrew a corner route.
The Bombers quarterback situation is this:
Drew Willy- starter
Max Hall, Brian Brohm- battle for #2 spot
Robert Marve- Developmental #3, short-yardage guy
Is it worth keeping the loser of the backup battle, likely Brohm, around? Probably not. Brohm is already 28. He's not getting a whole lot better. He's already spent a full season in the league and several years as a pro. Better to get a look at and potentially carry and develop a QB with upside, rather than one who has peaked.
On the whole, the offensive line play on both sides was fairly respectable. Quarterbacks had a lot of time for the most part. Clearly both teams were not doing much in terms intricate blitzing or twisting and pretty much rushing straight ahead, making the game very simple for the offensive lines.
On the Bombers side, four guys particularly stood out as struggling.
Among the starters, Jarvis Jones had a rough time at right tackle. He was consistently beat off the snap around the edge by Thaddeus Gibson (who looks like he could be a player for the Argos). A couple times, Willy was forced to throw early, leading to an inaccurate toss, and a couple teams he stepped up and out of the pocket and was able to find a receiver.
Quentin Saulsberry and Tyson Pencer were both bullied by guys who likely won't make the Argos. Pencer in particular looked very slow getting out of his stance. Not sure where Jesse Peterson played in college, but I'm guessing he wasn't a tackle.
On a positive note, I really liked Dan Knapp at right guard. He did a lot of good work with Steve Morley in zone run blocking, and got up to the second level. Say what you will about Morley, but it's been a long time since we've had a centre who could actually block as well as him, like back to 2006 Obby Khan. Snaps were good too. Outside of the first team OL, run blocking was poor, especially on the inside.
Matthias Goossen looked ok at both centre and guard. He was driven into the pocket a few times at guard, but to his credit he stayed on his block and gave the QB a chance.
Is Knapp an option at right guard? How many imports will the Bombers be playing on the line? They started 3 on Monday, but unless they get extremely creative with the ratio, it is hard to see a scenario where more than 2 imports play on the offensive line. Based on what we saw on Monday, I think our best offensive line right now would be:
6th- Goossen or Kowalczuk, Jarvis Jones or Cordaro Howard on reserve.
It will be interesting to see how teams use their 2 new roster spots, might be a 7th OL in one of them.
Jaymar Johnson...a lot of good, a lot of bad, a lot of opportunity. Jaymar Johnson is clearly a guy that the coaching staff wanted a long look at. He did enough to warrant further consideration, a nice sideline grab for a first down and a nice back shoulder touchdown grab called back for another receiver offside, but also had two flat-out drops, and a stumble out of bounds 2 yards short that killed a drive.
Mario Urrutia looks like a mix of Greg Carr and Chris Matthews. Tall and thick, made a couple nice grabs in traffic, we didn't get to see him on a deep route. Looks like he has the boundary WR all but spot locked up to start the season.
CJ Tarver made one real nice catch over the middle for a first down, but had one terrible drop and could not adjust on a couple deep balls to make a good effort on them. Also let a punt hit the turf and didn't look too dangerous when he finally decided to pick it up. I'm surprised he made it to the second pre-season game.
Julian Feoli-Gudino looked like a player. Solid blocking when he was called in by his QB to do so, and made a nice grab for a TD releasing off a block. May have to play a lot more than expected depending on the health of Watson and Kohlert, and I'm excited to see what he can do.
Donavon Kemp didn't get a lot of opportunity, but just produced on the Marve drive, catching the long bomb and the touchdown. I expect to see him get some more action on Saturday to show if he's the real deal.
Aaron Woods looked ok in a vanilla offence. I expect we'll see him in a more defined and individualized role when the season starts, he's got a skill set that Bellefeuille has maximized before with Corey Holmes and Marcus Thigpen. Showed great hands on the first down catch he made, but he's not a guy you want on corner routes like the 2 pt convert attempt.
Clarence Denmark, damn he looks like he's coming in still hot from 2013. Wouldn't be surprised if he ends up leading this team in receiving.
Nobody did anything good or bad to change the depth chart at receiver in my opinion. The starting 5 are still Urrutia, Moore, Denmark, Watson and Kohlert.
Paris Cotton was great. Good vision, comfortable running behind zone blocking, found the gaps, make a quick cut and got upfield. Ran with power and through contact. This performance should put him at the top of the depth chart, and he'll have a chance to solidify a roster spot in Calgary.
Nic Grigsby was the opposite of Cotton. Couldn't find the gaps, looked very uncomfortable and cut into traffic several times, didn't survive contact either, and Grigsby saw more action with the first team offensive line. One big run where he went right around the edge, otherwise a lot of 0-1-2 yard gains.
Will Ford better get back in the lineup for Saturday if he wants to hold off Paris Cotton's challenge for his starting RB spot.
On the whole, the defense did not look good. The "rally to the ball" philosophy was not evident. Pass coverage was very good, but the Bombers should have two concerns coming out of the first pre-season game. First, the amount of yards after catch (YAC) given up. The Argos ran the same playaction pass to the opposite flat a dozen times, and yet they turned it into first downs more often than not. Second, the amount of yards the Argos piled up on inside runs was obscene. Sometimes they burst right through the line, other times they ran around it because the inside was sealed, but where was the rally to the ball? A tailback shouldn't be able to run for 10-15-20 yards completely untouched, and certainly not multiple times in a game.
There were some individual standouts:
So far a name we've heard a lot in the media is Don Unamba. I wasn't all that impressed with his game, he had a lot of tackles, but only one close to the line of scrimmage, he was getting beat for a lot of YAC. He is all hustle, just not sure that he's very good.
Maurice Leggett looked very solid on both special teams and defense, all over the field and fast. He didn't make the official stat sheet, but I have him in on at least 3 special teams tackles, being the first contact twice.
Marty Markett was huge on D, to the point if I'm in charge of the Blue Bombers that I need to find a way to get this guy on the field. Forced a fumble, nearly had a pick 6 among his 3 passes defended, and didn't let any YAC happen when he wasn't able to breakup the pass.
Bruce Johnson was tested a couple times, and passed with flying colours. Would have had an INT if not for a teammate deflecting the ball away from him.
Matt Pierce lined up at linebacker and got home on a few blitzes, as did Graig Newman. If that is a key attribute Etcheverry is looking for, those guys showed it.
Teague Sherman forced a huge fumble at the goal-line. He should have the team made on special teams, huge bonus if he can take some snaps on D.
In terms of incumbent CFL stars, Demond Washington and Chris Randle were solid. Randle was not challenged at all, a sign of respect. The Argos spent the first quarter successfully picking on Alex Suber. Ian Wild had a great game, and I think he'll be a very good player at MAC in this defense. Wild made a slew of excellent open field tackles, a couple of them preventing huge runs.
On the defensive line, Zach Anderson and Jake Thomas performed well on the interior. Both got licks in on Gale and Pachall, Thomas grabbed a tackle for a loss too. Greg Peach had a flurry of sacks, but on the whole the pass rush was pretty tame.
In terms of returns, nobody distinguished themselves. A lot of punts hit the turf, which will drive the coaches nuts. Even on Cotton's big punt return, he let it roll on the carpet for a couple seconds then scooped it and took off. The returner gig is Aaron Woods' to lose, and nobody is giving him a big challenge yet.
In terms of kicking, wow, what a battle. Brett Maher received a huge opportunity to prove himself, and he did quite well. He outkicked his coverage once on a punt, and didn't place his punts all that well, usually hitting them closer to the hashmarks than the numbers. But his leg is huge, as his 67 yard kickoff average shows. Lirim Hajrullahu showed very well too. Big leg, also a 67 yard kickoff average. His punts were placed a little better, but he appears to be more of a placekicker. Neither kicker missed a FG, and both hit kicks of 40+ yards.
As of right now, I'd favour Maher to do all 3, and stash Hajrullahu for development. He's got a future.
A few non-QB Argo standouts:
#11 Natey Adjei, another very good Argo NI receiver.
#6 Thaddeus Gibson, rush end, dominated a pretty good OT in Jarvis Jones.
#83 Terrell Sinkfield, receiver/returner, if the Argos cut him, wouldn't mind a look in Winnipeg
#1 Anthony Coombs, cool to see him in a CFL uniform, but I think he got a first-hand taste of how his running style needs to change, he isn't going to open up any gaps going east-west, just lose ground.