Bombers have plenty of work to do

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:58 AM ET

WINNIPEG - If you’re a Bomber fan who believes the pre-season is for nothing more than trying to figure out who your backups are going to be, then you slept like a baby on Thursday night.

If you think it’s a sign of things to come, well, you might have tossed and turned a bit.

The Bombers, with all of their projected starters playing, managed just 112 yards of total offence in the first half of their 30-23 pre-season loss to the Toronto Argonauts in front of 29,117 at Canad Inns Stadium.

Winnipeg, which was 0-2 in the pre-season, will trim its roster to 46 players and a seven-man practice roster by 4 p.m. on Friday and then open the regular season on Canada Day in Hamilton.

Bomber quarterback Buck Pierce played for the first time since suffering a dislocated throwing elbow last September. He completed 10 of 14 attempts for 71 yards over most of the first half, mustering just six points.

“Obviously we wanted to score sevens,” said Pierce, who had at least two passes dropped. “That’s something we’re going to have to get better at.”

Joey Elliott took over for Pierce and looked a little better than he did last week in Montreal. He connected on 16 of 23 attempts for 181 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown toss to Clarence Denmark.

Elliott was also the quarterback of record as the Bombers stormed back from a 23-9 deficit to tie the game at 23-23 midway through the fourth.

Brandon Stewart forced Jerome Hewitt to fumble a missed field goal return on his own four-yard line, and Alex Henderson scored on the next play to even the score.

It was all for naught, however, as Chad Kackert scored on a 73-yard run with 33 seconds left to give the Argos the win.

Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice was pleased with his team’s effort, but wanted to see more points on the scoreboard.

“They came out and blitzed. I think they were trying to hit Buck Pierce,” LaPolice said. “… I’d like us to get more touchdowns. We had two nice drives, and they got us off the field a little bit. We’ve got a lot of stuff to clean up.”

Most of the starting spots are spoken for in the Bomber locker-room, but a few players made some solid last-minute impressions.

“Some of the young players stepped up and made some big plays down the stretch — Denmark, Josh Bishop, Johnny Sears was a force,” LaPolice said.

Bishop had three catches for 56 yards, including a 34-yard catch-and-run that set up Denmark’s touchdown. Denmark finished with five receptions for 52 yards. Sears had four special teams tackles, all but assuring himself a worry-free Friday.

Glenn January, who is battling Kelly Butler for the starting right tackle spot, said he wasn’t responsible for either of Toronto’s two sacks and felt he couldn’t have made a better case for himself.

“I played, in my mind, a really good game,” January said. “I played physical, I played with a lot of emotion. I was like a rookie out there. I was just running around with fresh legs. I felt like I was 22 years old again.”

Brandon Stewart didn’t look out of place at strong-side cornerback, Kenny Mainor had good push at Phillip Hunt’s vacant defensive end position, but Jason Vega hit the stat sheet with a sack that forced Cleo Lemon to fumble.

One area of concern for the Blue and Gold might be cover teams once again. Hewitt returned a Mike Renaud punt 59 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. The Bombers allowed six return majors last season.

Here’s a look at few other Bomber position battles on Thursday night:

Secondary — Brandon Stewart got the start at strong-side cornerback and had a nice pass knockdown in the first quarter, while Johnny Sears might have clinched a designated import spot with some superb special teams play.

Sears got beat on a 39-yard Argos completion in the second quarter, while another cornerback candidate, Deon Beasley, didn’t have many balls thrown his way.

Defensive end — Kenny Mainor got the start at Phillip Hunt’s old spot and didn’t look too bad, generating a decent amount of pressure. On one Toronto series he drew a holding penalty and on the next play had both the tackle and the running back blocking him.

Jason Vega went in next and sacked Cleo Lemon on his first series, also forcing him to fumble.

Right tackle — It’s difficult to tell just by watching them if they’re playing well, but both Kelly Butler and Glenn January didn’t appear to hurt their chances at all. They alternated at right tackle, and then January got some work on the left side in the second half.

Both of them can say they didn’t give up a sack through the first three quarters.

Canadian receiver — Cory Watson had six catches for 41 yards, and Kito Poblah, in his pre-season debut, made one grab for six yards in the first half. Josh Bishop had a great, 34-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter on which he bounced off three Argos tacklers. That set up Denmark’s touchdown.

LATE HITS: Bombers linebacker Clint Kent injured his right ankle early in the third quarter and didn’t return… Winnipeg’s season-ticket total reached 21,155 on Thursday at 1 p.m., when the discount sales period ended … At halftime the Bombers announced a service road next to the new stadium will be named Ken Ploen Way in honour of the legendary quarterback … The Bombers, according to league sources, have been sniffing around the league for a third-string quarterback. Current third-stringer Alex Brink didn’t play at all on Thursday.


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