Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Redblacks Visit Winnipeg Blue Bombers in First-Ever CFL Regular-Season Game

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Redblacks Visit Winnipeg Blue Bombers in First-Ever CFL Regular-Season Game

Article excerpt

Ottawa Redblacks to play first-ever game


Mike O'Shea was forced to take a unique approach in preparing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for Ottawa's return to the CFL.

The Bombers host Ottawa on Thursday night in the Redblacks' first-ever game as the CFL expansion team had an opening-week bye. That left Winnipeg with precious little current game film to evaluate as it prepared for the historic contest.

But that didn't deter O'Shea as the rookie head coach told his team this presented a glorious opportunity for the Bombers to concentrate on what they controlled -- most notably fine-tuning their execution so they could adapt to any situation that arose.

Execution certainly wasn't a problem in Winnipeg's season opener. The Bombers were dominant in their 45-21 home victory over the Toronto Argonauts. Quarterback Drew Willy, signed as an off-season free agent, finished 19-of-27 passing for 308 yards and four TDs en route to being named league's offensive player of the week.

Willy hit Aaron Kelly five times for 100 yards and two scoring strikes. Running back Nic Grigsby added 122 yards rushing on 21 carries.

The Redblacks will be the first Ottawa team to play a CFL regular-season game since Nov. 5, 2005 when the former Renegades beat Toronto 27-17 at Lansdowne Park.

The Redblacks, who were 1-1 during the exhibition season, have plenty of CFL experience. Their roster features 30 players who saw action last season and the veterans have a combined 121 seasons of experience and played 1,675 career games.

That's over 400 more than Winnipeg has through last week's game. Ottawa also has 18 players with Grey Cup experience.

The Redblacks' most experienced player is quarterback Henry Burris. The 39-year-old is entering his 16th CFL season and has played in 228 career games. He'll make his 187th start Thursday for a fourth different club.

Burris has a 100-83-3 record as a starter and is ranked fourth in all-time passing yards with over 51,000.

But if the opening week of play proved anything, it's the importance of teams not beating themselves. The four winning teams held a commanding 19-6 edge over their opponents in sacks, forced 12 turnovers while committing just five and combined to average more than 33 minutes in time of possession.

Another major opening-week stat was penalties. There were 101 combined calls, making it the most penalized week of CFL play since August 2007. It was also the most penalized opening week since '04 when 112 flags were thrown.

Toronto led the way with 22 penalties for 163 yards versus Winnipeg, which is looking to start the season 2-0 like it did in '11 when it reached the Grey Cup final before losing to B.C.

Prediction -- Winnipeg

B.C. LIONS at MONTREAL ALOUETTES (7 p.m. ET on Friday night).

Both teams are looking for their first win but this is already an important game for a Montreal team that struggled badly last week in Calgary. …

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