WINNIPEG — It could have been much worse.
That was the overriding reaction to news Thursday that Winnipeg Blue Bombers starting quarterback Matt Nichols will miss four-to-six weeks with an unspecified injury to his right knee.
“When you’re dealing with people, you don’t ever think it’s fortunate that they got injured in practice, but it’s positive that it’s that time line for sure,” head coach Mike O’Shea said after the team’s walk-through practice.
Nichols will be put on the six-game injured list as an administrative move for someone with a four-to-six-week recovery time, O’Shea said.
“If he’s healthier in the four, which I would think he would be, then he’ll come off the six-game or we’ll decide then what we’ll do,” he said.
Nichols, 31, suffered the injury late in Wednesday’s training camp practice during what’s usually a routine play. He took a snap and dropped back to make a pass, but suddenly fell to the turf untouched by any teammate.
He tossed his helmet in anger and walked slowly off the field with the help of a trainer on each side of him.
“The news could have been much worse so we’ll be OK with what we have right now,” Bombers veteran receiver Weston Dressler said.
Dressler talked to Nichols on the phone Wednesday night.
“It’ll be probably tougher on him mentally than physically the next few weeks here, but he knows we all got his back and we’re going to do what we can to win some games and, hopefully, be in a good position when he’s ready to get back out there,” Dressler said.
Nichols had a breakout season last year, passing for 4,472 yards and 28 touchdowns while leading the Bombers to a 12-6 record. He was named the team’s most valuable player for 2017.
He broke the ring finger on his throwing hand and strained a calf late in the campaign and missed the final regular-season game, though he did play in a 39-32 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos in the CFL West Division semifinal.
O’Shea said Nichols’ injury isn’t a recurring one. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a 2013 pre-season game while playing for Edmonton and missed the entire year.
The Bombers play their final exhibition game Friday in B.C. and open the regular season at home June 14 against the Eskimos.
O’Shea said he’s not thinking of bringing in experienced help at the quarterback position. Instead, it’ll be up to Alex Ross, Chris Streveler, Bryan Bennett or Zach Mahoney to get the job done while Nichols is recovering.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen after this game or during this game, but do I believe we’ve got the guys right here, right now, absolutely,” O’Shea said. “It’s never about one guy. It’s a great team sport.”
The Bombers had added veteran insurance behind Nichols when they signed Darian Durant in the off-season, but he surprisingly retired in early May.
Ross and Streveler appear to be the two guys now fighting for the temporary starting job and the backup role whenever Nichols returns.
Ross has the most CFL experience. In four games with the Lions last season, he completed five of 12 pass attempts for 82 yards. He was 1 for 8 passing for eight yards in Winnipeg’s exhibition victory over Edmonton last week.
“Regardless of the situation, it’s still an opportunity,” Ross said. “It hasn’t changed, my mindset hasn’t changed as far as coming out here, showing the coaches I can compete and doing the best I can at being able to see the coverages and knowing where to go with the football.”
Streveler, a grad from the University of South Dakota, completed all 10 of his pass attempts against the Eskimos for 140 yards with one touchdown. He also ran four times for 37 yards.
“He’s just a great guy,” Streveler said of Nichols. “From the second I came here in mini camp, and since I’ve been here since camp, he’s been more than willing to help everyone out.
“To see something like that, it’s tough, especially for a guy like that who’s such a good leader on the team and stuff. But I know that the person he is, he’ll bounce back and he’ll be ready to go when ready.”