Lefty deserves shot

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:19 AM ET

Has Doug Berry lost his mind? Or is he just dead set against Old Lefty?

The Blue Bomber head coach has decided to bench Troy Westwood for tomorrow's game against the CFL-leading B.C. Lions, going instead with young kicker Rob Pikula.

Because of injuries to two offensive linemen, Berry has a bit of a roster crunch on his hands, and feels he has no choice but to sit out one of his kickers to dress an extra backup lineman.

But why Westwood?

The 40-year-old had his best game of the year last week against Hamilton, hammering the ball like it was the last game of his life. Meanwhile, Pikula was hammered into a concussion, which is why Old Lefty was doing the punting in the first place.

Talk about setting yourself up to be second-guessed. If Pikula has a shaky game, Berry won't hear the end of it.

We're not going to wait until after the game to second-guess the second-year Bomber boss. This decision simply flies in the face of logic, which is usually one of Berry's strong points.

Westwood rediscovered himself in Saturday's win over the Ticats, playing the game with a joy he hadn't felt all season. He was two-for-two on field goals and booted the laces off the ball on kickoffs and punts, averaging nearly 57 yards a pop.

Sure, he had a Winnipeg wind at his back. But he still had to connect. And his placement, a Berry prerequisite, was excellent.

This is exactly what the Bombers needed, going into the stretch drive and the playoffs. If you don't have a kicker with confidence in the post-season, you're asking for trouble, and Saturday's game was a springboard for Westwood's battered psyche.

What Berry has done is pulled the mat out from under the poor guy, forcing him to absorb yet another hard landing in what has been a nightmare season.

Any gains Old Lefty made Saturday have been wiped out. Which leaves this team's field goal game up in the air at the most important time of year.

Of course, we wouldn't be saying this if Pikula had grabbed the job by the throat and squeezed the life out of his competition.

But the guy remains the lowest-rated punter in the league, gross yards or net, take your pick. And he's admitted he struggles even more with punting when he takes on the field goal and kickoff job, too.

Not only do the numbers work against Berry's decision, but so do the intangibles.

It's autumn, the wind is blowing and the temperature is dropping. It helps to have people who are used to dealing with the elements.

Westwood has played 244 regular-season games for Winnipeg, about half of them here on the windswept prairie. Pikula has suited up for six games in Winnipeg.

If it's ugly tomorrow night, who would you rather have kicking the ball?

Say what you will about Westwood -- and we've said it in this space a few times -- the guy is a survivor. He's had to be.

This season, Berry has already, a) told him he can't punt anymore, b) benched him and c) put him through a very public and humiliating competition for his field goal job. He's also missed two games with a leg injury.

But he keeps grinding. The guy obviously has skin thicker than leather.

Pikula? We're not sure, yet.

And he's coming off that concussion. It would have been easy to have him sit this one out, and see if, indeed, the confidence Westwood had lost is back.

The bottom line is this: the best thing for the Bombers is to have both kickers healthy, happy and playing well, going into the playoffs.

Benching Pikula would have kept that possibility open.

Sending yet another non-confidence motion in Westwood's direction might be the most ill-advised kick this team has seen all season.


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