Blue need to toughen up

JIM BENDER, STAFF REPORTER

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

It was almost as if he was challenging their manhood.

Dismayed by the debacle in Regina on Saturday night, Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Jim Daley accused his charges of lacking toughness after the 42-15 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in their CFL season-opener.

And that starts with an offensive line that barely opened enough holes for tailback Charles Roberts to squeak through for a meagre 14 yards on seven carries.

"Our inability to run the ball with a great running back (Roberts) is a big concern," Daley said yesterday. "We played relatively error-free in regards to assignments on offence. Our problem was not clarity in assignments. We simply have to get more physical and execute better. Simple. It doesn't take much to spring Charlie. We have to spring Charlie. That sets up our whole offence."

And it wasn't just the run-blocking that suffered.

"We protected the passer, statistically, very well," Daley said, referring to the single sack surrendered. "I'm not sure we're anywhere near the level we want to be in terms of pass protection, in terms of the protection being more on the line of scrimmage. We got pushed back into the quarterback's face."

Sounds like the proverbial 98-pound weakling at Muscle Beach.

"There's no question we need to get tougher," readily admitted veteran guard Mike Abou-Mechrek, a man known for playing through pain. "That's why they brought me in here.

'WASN'T A GOOD EFFORT'

"But the bottom line is, we weren't on the field long enough to do anything, whether it was to show our toughness or to show our offensive playbook. It just wasn't a good effort from top to bottom. It's got to get better and it will get better."

And they must starting spitting nails soon as Winnipeg plays host to the Eskimos on Thursday. The Edmonton defensive line recorded seven sacks versus Ottawa last week and held tailback Josh Ranek in check.

"They're good," said Abou-Mechrek. "They got seven sacks against my old team (Renegades) -- I like to think they could have used me -- so, it's not going to get any easier. They've got a good front four, a good front seven, actually. We're just going to have to go back to work and get on top of everything, then we should be all right."

Abou-Mechrek, who just returned to Winnipeg after spending the last three years with Ottawa, was anticipating better.

"We expected to come out with a lot more intensity and ferocity," said the 6-foot-6, 305-pound Toronto native. "The bright side is that we've got it saved up for Edmonton. So, they're going to be getting a double-dose of what we have to offer because it's got to get better."

And meaner. But that doesn't mean Daley will be feeding them raw meat.

"This isn't magic," he said. "Players want to play great football. A loss like we had is really disappointing but it had better not be discouraging because then you have a whole other problem. You try to coach people to do their jobs great. So, when there's a setback, get over it, move on, get ready for the next opponent."


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