Blue Bombers regrouping

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

WINNIPEG - If it's true the CFL season begins after Labour Day, then the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have a pretty good head start.

Thanks to Hamilton’s 44-21 win over Montreal on Monday, the Bombers (7-2) boast a four-point lead on both the Tiger-Cats and Alouettes (5-4) in the East Division. And it’s essentially a six-point edge on the Ticats because the Bombers have already clinched the season series.

Head coach Paul LaPolice was still smarting Monday after the 27-7 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Sunday’s Labour Day Classic, but he admitted not many people would have put money on Winnipeg’s starting the season with a 7-2 mark.

“I would say we’re happy that we’re in first place, but it doesn’t really matter,” LaPolice said. “It’s a week to week game, so right now we’re not really jumping for joy.

“There’s a comfort level that you’re four points up on people, but it doesn’t make losing a game any sweeter. It means you have to go back and get to work.”

Problems don’t get much attention when you’re winning, so LaPolice said Winnipeg’s ground and return games are officially under the microscope after particularly rough outings on Sunday.

Running back Fred Reid had just 35 yards on 14 carries against the Riders, who are the CFL’s second-worst team against the run, and his average per carry has dipped to a dismal 3.9 yards. No team runs the ball more than the Bombers, so it can’t continue.

“Our run game, we gotta improve,” LaPolice said. “We have to look at what we’re doing. It’s not like we don’t do that every week, but we want to try to see if maybe we can formation some different things and try to be more successful.”

The return game, meanwhile, has lacked the big play at the key moment. The Bombers had brutal field position all afternoon against the Riders, and the man who has their two longest kickoff returns of the season, Perry Floyd, was released and now plays for Montreal.

Deon Beasley’s 29-yard kickoff return on Aug. 13 against the B.C. Lions is the longest among active Bombers, while Jovon Johnson’s punt-return average has dropped to 8.8 yards.

“The thing that’s gotta happen is we need to be able to sometimes flip the field with guys,” LaPolice said. “Both those guys also play other spots (in the secondary), so that’s sometimes hard. We’ll look at our roster and see if there’s anything we can do.”

The Bombers do have rookie Tim Brown waiting in the wings, so he’s a possibility for the return game if they can get him on the roster.

Defensive end Odell Willis, the “mayor” of Winnipeg’s league-leading Swaggerville defence, believes the Bombers will have the right mindset going into the second half of the season, which begins with Sunday’s Banjo Bowl against the Riders.

“We still got something to hold our heads up about, but at the same time we can’t just come out and think it’s going to be easy and it’s going to be given to us,” said Willis, who leads the league with nine sacks in nine games.

“We’re at the top and we got a lot of people trying to catch us, so we just gotta keep our foot on the gas and keep playing football.”


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