WINNIPEG — Matt Nichols could be feeling the heat from more than a scorching Saturday weather forecast.
The Blue Bombers starting quarterback is finally making his season debut against the B.C. Lions after suffering a knee injury during a non-contact play at practice on June 6.
Nichols and his teammates are pumped for his return to the huddle on a day with a forecasted high of 35 C, but offensive lineman Jermarcus Hardrick expects the Lions’ defenders will go hard at the pivot.
“I think they’ll try to bring more to Matt since he’s coming fresh off of injury,” Hardwick said after Friday’s walk-through. “Try to rattle him more or try to get to his injury or things like that.
“But it makes the challenge even more for the (offensive) line. We’re excited for it because all we want to do it keep (Nichols) up.”
He vowed to do whatever it takes to protect the pivot, who’ll wear a brace on his right knee.
“Experience, the leadership, the spunk,” Hardrick said of the qualities Nichols brings to the offence that was run in his absence by rookie backup Chris Streveler.
“Not to want to let the guy down is just so much. You just give up anything of your body to make sure you’re not letting (Nichols) down. I don’t care if it’s not pretty, as long as he’s not getting hit. Sometimes you throw your ankle, throw your knee.
“There’s rules out there, but there’s no rules keeping (Nichols) up, I’ll tell you that. He plays the same way for us.”
Lions middle linebacker Solomon Elimimian wasn’t revealing if putting extra pressure on Nichols will be part of the game plan.
“I cannot say that,” he said with a chuckle.
“You know what, he’s come off of injury and I don’t know how great he feels or what not, but the fact he’s out there tells you he’s healthy enough to play.
“So whether it’s Nichols or Streveler, any good quarterback in the CFL you have to put pressure on him. You can’t let him have all time and sit back there and pick you apart. You have to change up the look.”
Nichols, who was expected to be out four to six weeks, said Streveler did a great job for the team that’s 1-2 , but he’s ready to reclaim his spot.
“I fully expect to go out there and perform right away,” Nichols said.
“I mean, I wouldn’t be going out there if I didn’t feel like I was going to be giving my team a great chance to win.
“I had a sharp week of practice and I’m fully ready to go. There’s no excuse about being out a few weeks. I got to go through the whole training camp, played in a pre-season game. I’ve played so much football in my career, I fully expect to be sharp.”
CFL quarterbacks form a tight community and B.C. pivot Jonathon Jennings was happy to see Nichols’ injury didn’t keep him out too long, unlike the serious neck injury that has Toronto veteran starter Ricky Ray missing “significant time” and maybe the rest of the season.
“I’m glad that (Nichols) is OK. I’m glad that he wasn’t seriously hurt,” Jennings said.
Jennings has yet to hit the 200-yard passing mark in either of the Lions’ first two games (1-1).
He threw 24 passes in each outing, completing a total of 33 for 382 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He’s also run 14 times for 91 yards.
Both teams are hoping for bounce-back games. Last week, the Lions lost 41-22 to Edmonton and Hamilton defeated Winnipeg 31-17.
B.C. (1-1) AT WINNIPEG (1-2)
Saturday, Investors Group Field
EVENLY MATCHED: Eleven of the last 16 games between the Lions and Bombers have been decided in the final three minutes. Each team has won eight games.
SECOND CHANCES: Winnipeg has converted a league-best 61 per cent of their second-down opportunities. B.C. is at 37 per cent.
DEFENCE ON A DOWNER: The Lions’ pass defence is ranked last, allowing 303.5 yards per game. The Bombers are eighth in giving up 302 yards per game.
CLOSING IN ON TOP 20. Winnipeg pass catcher Weston Dressler has 9,644 receiving through his 11 seasons, ranking him 22nd all-time in league history. He needs 94 yards to vault into the Top 20.