Big Blue’s Bailey impressive in second pre-season outing
REGINA — What began as a sleeper, ended in a nail-biter.
The Winnipeg Bombers were able to withstand a late push from their prairie rivals, edging the Saskatchewan Roughriders 25-16 at Mosaic Stadium Tuesday night.
The game marked the end of the pre-season for the Bombers, who can now shift their focus to the games that really count. The Bombers finish the exhibition season 1-1, after losing to the Edmonton Elks, 30-20, at IG Field Friday night.
Here are my observations from Tuesday’s win over the Roughriders.
• The Bombers took a trimmed-down roster to Regina compared to Friday’s pre-season opener at home versus Edmonton, cutting the number of players from nearly 80 to just more than 60. The roster was made up of mostly rookies, with only one starter from last season, receiver Rasheed Bailey. The Roughriders had only a handful of projected starters in the lineup, spread across offence and defence, but nothing close to the roster we’ll see this season.
• Many predict, me included, that Bailey will play a significant role on the offence as he enters his third year with the team. But he went without a catch in three targets against the Elks and I think there’s a message being delivered here by making him play twice in four days. I don’t think that was lost on Bailey, and he put together a much better performance against the Roughriders. Bailey finished with two catches for 43 yards, including a gain of 34 yards with a defender draped all over him. Bailey played just a half but looked engaged and fought to make catches.
• Dru Brown got the start under centre for the second straight game, and once the 25-year-old showed flashes. He looked composed despite facing a ton of pressure behind an inexperienced O-line, finishing six-for-14, for 86 passing yards. Not incredible numbers by any means, but he converted a few second downs with his arm and used his legs to move the chains. He accounted for the Bombers first touchdown drive, capping off a five-play, 43-yard series with an 11-yard run and a QB sneak for the score.
• Dakota Prukop had a much better outing compared to Friday. He finished seven-for-12 passing for 215 yards and two touchdowns — a 78-yard Hail Mary to Whop Philyor and a 43-yard strike to Tavaris Harrison. Prukop was also dangerous with his legs, leading all rushers with six carries for 74 yards — an average of 12.3 yards per run. If the Bombers are looking for a short yardage QB to backup Collaros, Prukop likely has the edge now.
• For those curious why Zach Collaros didn’t dress in either game, it’s because the Bombers didn’t want to risk the reigning league MOP getting hurt in a meaningless affair. Especially with the Bombers not dressing their entire starting offensive line in either game. Collaros showed last year he didn’t need a pre-season snap (the exhibition schedule was cancelled owing to COVID-19) to be effective in Week 1.
• Three times in the first half — twice for Prukop and once for Brown — the Bombers opted to gamble on third-and-short from inside the Roughriders five-yard line and all three pass attempts weren’t even close to being completed.
• With Brady Oliveira and Johnny Augustine sidelined, we got a look at three different running backs, including Canadian Kyle Borsa and Americans Shayne Simpson and Greg McCrae. Borsa got the start and impressed early in his limited action. He finished with six carries totalling 21 yards, including one scamper for 17 yards (he also had a run of -6 yards). He hauled in one of three targets for a nice 18-yard gain, bringing some valuable Canadian depth behind Oliveira and Augustine. McCrae (four carries for 39 yards) had an impressive 24-yard run and Simpson (six carries for 26 yards) also had a few nice gains for first downs.
• The Bombers defence bent at times but didn’t break for much of the evening, including shutting out Saskatchewan through the first three quarters. Things would come undone, though, in the final frame. The Bombers allowed a 46-yard field goal early in the fourth, and then an 11-play, 78-yard TD drive in the final minutes to make it a one-score game. The Roughriders added another touchdown to pull within two points, but a failed two-point convert kept Winnipeg on top. In total, the Bombers gave up 293 offensive yards, including 203 through the air and 90 on the ground.
• There were a few standout moments and performances on defence. Tyqwan Glass and Javon Jackson each had an interception; defensive lineman L.B. Mack and linebacker Cedric Lavinge each had a QB sack; defensive back Jermaine Ponder forced a fumble; and defensive backs Corey Straughter and Jamal Parker each registered a fumble recovery. Linebacker Malik Clements had a team-high eight defensive tackles.
• The pre-season hasn’t exactly been the best chance to scout the kickers. There were no field-goal attempts in the first game and just one 18-yard field goal by Marc Liegghio against Saskatchewan. Ali Mourtada was successful on a 32-yard, one-point convert, with Liegghio hitting on two. They split kickoff and punting duties, with almost identical results.
• With the preseason now in the rear-view mirror, it’s time for the Bombers to make some tough decisions. They’ll have to trim their roster down by Saturday morning, but we won’t know who is on the injured list and who will crack the 46-man lineup for Week 1 until the day before kickoff. We will, however, see who will make up the practice roster, which is a maximum of 12 players, including a minimum of one Canadian player and a maximum of nine Americans and two global players.
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.
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