WINNIPEG — Outsiders may think the Blue Bombers are a team in disarray, but head coach Mike Kelly couldn’t care less.
He sees a group that has moved past its latest distraction, the release this week of veteran receiver Derick Armstrong, and that’s ready for today’s home-opener against the Calgary Stampeders (TSN, 5:30 p.m.).
“We have 52 players that practised awfully hard this week and 40 players that played very hard last week (in a loss to Edmonton),” Kelly said. “I’m more concerned about how our players are feeling and their focus, and really could care less about what anybody thinks on the outside other than in this building.”
Armstrong was released on Wednesday after the six-year CFL veteran refused to play in Winnipeg’s 19-17 loss to the Eskimos because he was going to be a backup. Two days later after the loss, he and the new coach got into a shouting match in Kelly’s office.
The fallout just adds to the curiosity fans have about their team, which includes more than 30 new faces from last year’s 8-10 squad.
Keeping along the theme of us-against-them, Kelly knows what he expects.
“I expect us to play with a chip on our shoulder,” he said. “I want a football team that knocks people backwards and that’s what we’ll be looking for (Friday).”
Calgary is aiming for its first win of the season after losing 40-27 to Montreal last week. The Stamps gave up 431 yards, including 176 yards along the ground.
When asked how his Bombers match up against the Stampeders, Kelly displayed the chip on his shoulder.
“We’re just lucky to be on the field with the defending Grey Cup champions,” Kelly quipped. “We’re the land of misfit toys, right?”
Winnipeg linebacker Ike Charlton said he and teammates are just concentrating on bouncing back from the Edmonton loss where a missed 47-yard Alexis Serna field goal on the last play of the game nixed overtime.
“You don’t want to go down 0-2 so we’re going to continue to fight,” Charlton said. “There’s no distractions going on around here. We’re ready to go and we look forward to playing.”
Bombers running back Fred Reid wants to show fans what they can do.
“I know there’s a lot of doubters out there about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, about a lot of players (who) are gone from last year’s team, but we’re going to be pretty good,” Reid said.
Calgary is expected to make some changes along its defensive line, moving end Mike Labinjo to tackle and adding rookie Odell Willis at end. Its offensive line will have three different starters from last week: Jeff Pilon, Tim O’Neill and Jesse Newman. OL Rob Lazeo is out with an elbow injury.
Winnipeg’s D-line will again be without Doug Brown, who was a late scratch against Edmonton because of a viral infection that’s now been diagnosed as meningitis.