As a guy who has been his offensive co-ordinator in the past, Paul LaPolice fully comprehends just how dangerous Arland Bruce III can be.
In fact, it was LaPolice who has to take some of the credit (or perhaps some of the blame, now that he’s on the opposite sideline) for Bruce’s development into an elite receiver.
LaPolice was responsible for moving Bruce from wideout to slotback in 2002 during his stint with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
“I remember telling him, ‘You’re going to be a great slot in this league,’” said LaPolice, after putting the Bombers through the paces at Rods Field. “And he hated the waggle. He was like, ‘I hate it. Can I just go outside there and catch the ball?’ I said, ‘No, trust me. Stay here.’ He’s so athletic. When the ball’s in the air, he can catch it anywhere: behind him, low balls, high balls.
“So that’s the first thing. He’s very athletic. And then his yards after the catch, because he’s a former running back. When he came out of college he was a running back that they moved to receiver in his senior year because he was so athletic. So he can run after the catch, and he can make a lot of difficult, off-balance catches.”
Bruce made plenty of athletic catches last week for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, tying a CFL record for receptions in a game (16) and racking up 272 yards and two touchdowns in a losing cause.
Now it’s up to the Blue Bombers to try and minimize Bruce’s production as they travel to Ivor Wynne Stadium to face the Ticats on Saturday.
Devising a game plan to limit — if not shut down Bruce III —is one thing, but being able to execute and not let him beat you can sometimes be another challenge entirely.
“We have to know where Arland is every single play,” said Blue Bombers defensive co-ordinator Kavis Reed.
Defensive back LaVar Glover respects Bruce, but isn’t stressing out about the match-up.
“You worry about him the same,” said Glover. “Shoot, he’s one of the top receivers in this league, so he’s always a key guy to focus on. But we’ll try to contain him as much as we can and play our game. He’s just like anybody else. Last week it was Ken-Yon Rambo and Romby Bryant, so we got the same game plan. We just have to come out faster.”
Bombers defensive back Jovon Johnson helped limit the damage inflicted by Rambo last week and expects to do the same against Bruce.
“He’s a great receiver, we know that going into the game,” said Johnson. “Their game plan last week was obviously to get the ball to him because he had a great game. But for us, we’ve got to do the things that we do.
“I don’t think we’re going to change the game plan much because of him. It’s just one of those challenges we look forward to. I can’t even imagine a guy having 272 yards receiving against me. They line him up in different spots and they want to get him the ball, but our DBs are comfortable covering him. It’s not a problem. It’s just a matter of making the play when they come at you.”
— With files from Kirk Penton