It’s well-versed that CFL rookies must make an excellent first impression in training camp and in preseason game situations, as two games is not a lot of time to earn a roster spot, let alone displace a veteran.
If the second-half of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ 36-13 victory over the Montreal Alouettes is any indication, a large amount of rookies wearing the Blue & Gold must’ve made some strong impressions for Mike O’Shea and his staff.
While it’s impossible to really know for sure without the play-calls, certain players absolutely popped off the page with blue-chip performances, while others inevitably disappointed. Any game is extremely hard to evaluate at first glance, and the weekly installment of the game-review Stock Market Report is my thoughts after replaying the game and working my rewind button to hell on every play.
Here’s the inaugural Stock Market Report of 2016: newcomers edition.
Travis Bond: The 6-foot-6, 330-pound Bond could’ve earned himself a starting job with his performance on Wednesday. Bond was easily the Bombers’ top offensive lineman, and he took reps at both offensive tackle and guard. On a second & one play with 1:51 remaining in the first half, Bond essentially ate the nose guard as Carlos Anderson plunged behind him for a 1st down – and that may not have even been his best block of the night. Bond only lost one match-up all night, and in the match-ups he did win, he completely instilled his force on the defender. Bond even showed great comfort passing off defenders and picking up twists, too. Having excelled at both guard and offensive tackle in the preseason game, he should enter the season as the swing man with Jeff Keeping out eight weeks, since the team still seems really high on Jace Daniels at left guard.
Trent Corney: Upon further review, Corney was significantly better as a pass-rusher than both Adrian Hubbard and Shayon Green. (All three were played in the third and fourth quarter, too; Corney faced the same competition for much of the game). While Hubbard was extremely slow off the ball, Corney showcased an absurd burst out of a three-point stance. (That wasn’t necessarily unexpected with his absolutely off-the-charts athleticism). Corney, who recorded two sacks in his first taste of pro ball, used his hands surprisingly well on a couple of rushes, showcasing his expanded repertoire on a series of plays while absolutely bullying sophomore tackle Jacob Ruby on an Alouettes’ drive that started at around the three-minute mark of the second quarter. The Virginia product wasn’t nearly as average against the run as I first thought he was following the game, either; he maintained gap discipline and responsibilities decently well. The Bombers won’t start Corney in week one, but this muscle-head should be the club’s primary rotational pass-rusher from the get-go.
Tim Flanders: Speed, shiftiness, vision
Thomas Mayo: The 6-1 pass-catcher made the most of the absence of Jace Davis, who was the favorite to win the lone opening in the Bombers’ receiving corps in the first week of camp. Finishing with 2 receptions for 27 yards in the stat column, Mayo also had a great play off a high slant route across the middle versus cover-1 wiped off by a penalty. A couple plays later, with 16 seconds on the clock, Mayo got the Bombers down to around the 3-yard line with another tough grab on the same route as before. Away from the ball, he got better separation than most of Winnipeg’s struggling receiving corps, showing that he should receive an increase in targets in the second preseason game. In that case, giving his sample of tough catches already, Mayo will be a week one starter if he can repeat his game one performance against Ottawa.
Sergio Castillo: He’ll inevitably be released during final cuts, however Castillo’s four-for-five-performance should earn him another gig when CFL teams are looking for kicking help in a month or so. After missing his first kick from 44 yards, knowing he already had no chance of making the roster, Castillo could’ve packed it in right then and there. Instead he went out and made kicks from 35, 44, 39 and 49. Castillo also added two extra points. Good for him.
Quincy McDuffie: A terrible drop on a would-be touchdown catch from McDuffie was the only thing that prohibited the former Ti-cat from locking up a roster spot. Otherwise, the diminutive speedster was great as both a receiver and a returner. His route-running was better than expected, and he made an emphatic statement in the third quarter with a reception on a beautiful corner route, which featured a nice inside stem to open the halfback’s hips. He also, as expected, made plays when receiving the ball in space, breaking off a 17-yard romp after catching a speed-out against a soft zone. McDuffie showed the same short-area burst as on the corner route here, evading the first tackler with a nasty juke-move. The club is still very high on Justin Veltung – as they should be – but it’s going to be nearly impossible to keep McDuffie off the roster.
Andrew Harris: Harris’ highlight reel catch-and-run in the 1st quarter was everything Bomber fans had ever dreamed about when the Winnipeg-native first burst onto the scene in 2011 with the Lions. With how the Bombers intend to use the run-game under Paul Lapolice, I have no doubt Harris will lead the league in yards from scrimmage in 2016.
Jamarcus Hardrick: The most enthusiastic offensive lineman I’ve ever seen, Hardrick had himself a fantastic outing. The veteran of 18 career starts dominated at both offensive tackle and guard, and if it was my choice, I’d have Travis Bond starting at left guard with Hardrick as the depth swing-man. (It was announced that Jeff Keeping is out about 8 weeks with a knee injury, and Michael Couture is nowhere near ready to be the sixth man). Hardrick is an absolute mauler in the run-game, while also possessing the needed quickness to block speed-rushers as a book-end. He was a solid pickup in the off-season by GM Kyle Walters.
Brian Bennett & Dominique Davis: The two battling pivots weren’t as great as Winnipeg’s 23 second-half points might indicate, but each showed some positive traits as inexperienced quarterbacks. Both guys were extremely poised in the pocket, mostly executed the play-calls and showed some good escapability. Aside from his beautiful, back-shoulder touchdown toss to Fred Williams, Bennett was quite inaccurate, while Davis didn’t always seem to see the defense quite as fast as needed. The latter still has the upper-hand, though
Tony Burnett: Likely Winnipeg’s most underrated player, Burnett locked up his roster spot with his performance Wednesday night. Suiting for about half of Winnipeg’s games in 2015 – Burnett battled a couple of injuries in his rookie campaign – Burnett will be the club’s designated import at linebacker once again in year two. The USC product’s excellent change of direction skills, in tandem with his tackling abilities, were put on display in the preseason opener. He reacted quickly to an Alouettes’ screen pass with 2:44 left in the second quarter, making a drive-ending, solo tackle with no other defender near the ball. Burnett played well at both SAM and WIL linebacker in the third quarter, and made another excellent open-field tackle on Duron Carter’s missed field goal return in the 1st half.
Addison Richards: Richards’ play against Montreal showed that he isn’t quite ready to be Rory Kohert’s primary backup, but he certainly showed some signs of potential. In the very few games that Richards was healthy enough to suit up in last year, the game seemed to be going 1,000-mph in the rookie’s head. He seemed much more confident on Wednesday, and although his route-running needs a ton of work, Richards played very fast and with poise. Sure, his first catch – a 12-yard curl – was a poor route, while his second was a short hook with the corner playing way off in deep zone duties, but it was good for the Regina product to get on the stat-sheet after a tumultuous first season.
Carlos Anderson: Ditto to Flanders in every aspect – decisiveness, speed, shiftiness – but the only thing preventing Anderson from being a blue-chipper that night was his pass-blocking. Anderson was burnt badly by a blitzing linebacker in the C-gap around the 11:00 mark of the third quarter, which hurts his stock. Averaging 6.7 yards-per-carry on the ground, he did, however, match Flander’s effectiveness as a runner – although working with the starting offensive line (not Michael Couture, specifically), he might have even been better – and provides experience and big-play ability as a returner. Mike O’Shea, Avon Cobourne and Paul Lapolice are going to have to make a very tough decision when it comes to Andrew Harris’ backup.
Manase Foketi: He received significant playing time, but Foketi was a weaker point on what was a very solid offensive line for all four quarters. Playing mostly offensive tackle, Foketi’s feet seemed to be stuck in the mud on his kick steps. For reference, watch Aaron Lavarias go nearly untouched around the edge (2:10 mark of the 2nd quarter) as the Bombers rolled the pocket to Foketi’s side. With Bond and Hardrick putting on a clinic, Foketi’s days in Winnipeg could be numbered.
Macho Harris: Harris’ missed open-field tackle on a Brandon Rutley screen pass on Montreal’s second drive of the game was an abrupt reminder that he was one of the underlying issues of Saskatchewan’s brutal defense in 2015. With Tony Burnett’s continual development at linebacker, I’m open to having Burnett start at SAM, allowing Maurice Leggett to replace Harris at safety. As a strong-side LB, Burnett is probably no better than Leggett as a cover-man, but it’d be worth it with Leggett, an elite safety, stepping in for Harris on the back-end.
Shayon Green: Frankly, Adrian Hubbard wasn’t all that better, but he did, at least, show some life while setting the edge on a couple run plays, and while recording a sack against All-Star right tackle Jeff Perrett. Green, meanwhile, was largely ineffective, running himself out of the play against the run, and while looking one-dimensional as a pass-rusher. While Green is far more athletic, he lacks the technique that Hubbard possesses.
Kevin Fogg: Fogg entered Wednesday’s game with a lot of hype coming from his excellent 10 days of practice, so anything less than an average-to-solid performance would see his stock drop. Als’ receiver Chandler Jones beat him a couple times on the night for solid gains, although I’m not too sure if Fogg actually had flat responsibilities on Jones’ touchdown reception from Rakeem Cato. Fogg still has a good chance to start in week one at boundary halfback, but with Julian Posey receiving a lot of reps, Donald Celiscar continuing to improve – he was very sound in coverage, and forced a fumble on kickoff – as well as Johnny Patrick returning to the lineup, Fogg needs to be an impactful player on Monday against Ottawa.
Gerrard Shephard & Lester Jean: On a night where the majority of the receiving corps struggled to get separation, Shephard and Jean may have struggled more than any of the receivers at getting open or making plays on the football. Bennett’s pass was slightly behind him, but Shephard had a bad drop across the middle at the 8:17 mark of the fourth quarter, while Jean struggled to beat press, and didn’t generate any leverage with the ball in the air.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: OL Travis Bond (6’6″, 230-lbs)
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: LB Tony Burnett (6’1″, 205-lbs)
The Bombers are in action next on Monday against the Ottawa REDBLACKS.