WINNIPEG — Cornerback Maurice Leggett has done a lot in two-plus seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but beating the Edmonton Eskimos isn’t on the list.
“It’s frustrating you know, since I’ve been here we haven’t won against Edmonton, and we’re just trying to get the ball rolling against them,” said Leggett, who recalled listening to retired NBA star Kobe Bryant talk about how he hated the Phoenix Suns, a team his Los Angeles Lakers struggled to beat.
“I guess I’ve got the same feeling.”
Winnipeg (1-2) picked up their first win of the season in Hamilton last week, Leggett named a CFL top performer for two interceptions (one for a 50-yard touchdown), five defensive tackles and one sack. Buliding on that win will be tough, as the Bombers haven’t managed to best the Eskimos since July 26, 2012, despite a few heartbreakingly close games.
The defending Grey Cup champion Eskimos (1-1) will be no easier to beat this time said Winnipeg quarterback Drew Willy, still trying to hit his stride after missing most of last season due to injury. But he said he doesn’t look at this game as a way to measure the depth of the 2016 Bombers against a key rival.
“I don’t think of it that way, obviously we’re playing a good team,” said Willy, whose 940 passing yards rank him second only to Ottawa’s Trevor Harris so far this season, partly thanks to his one-game lead on pivots such as Edmonton’s Mike Reilly.
“We know we need to be ready. We definitely had a good week of practice, a week of preparation … we’re definitely looking forward to it.”
Running back Andrew Harris said the Winnipeg’s win in Hamilton last week was important, but the team has put that in the closet.
“I think we flushed the win just like you would flush a loss … Every week you’ve got to flush it,” said the former CFL all-star, one of Winnipeg’s top additions this season.
But it did give the team a much-needed lift after dropping their first two of the season.
“After last week the intensity picked up in practice.”
It’s early but Harris, a Winnipeg native, ranks second in CFL rushing yards this season behind only Calgary’s Jerome Messam.
The Bombers will be playing without kick returner Quincy McDuffie. Halfback Kevin Fogg will be first on the depth chart.
“Kevin Fogg is a guy who appears to be able to run all day,” said Bombers coach Mike O’Shea, praising his ability to play offence, defence and special teams.
“Guys like this are hard to find.”
The offences led by Reilly and Willy have both suffered from slow starts this season but Reilly says that doesn’t bother him.
“We don’t panic,” he said as he returned to the site of his Grey Cup win last November.
“We know a football game is four quarters and, apparently for us, four quarters and an overtime, but we know that there’s a lot of football to be played.”
Both Edmonton’s games so far have been decided in overtime. And despite the Eskimos’ winning record against the Bombers, Reilly said he takes nothing for granted.
“You come into this stadium you know you’re in for a dogfight.”
Rookie Edmonton coach Jason Maas and O’Shea have history together on the staff of the Toronto Argonauts, where they both shared in the team’s 2012 Grey Cup win.
“I think we’ll both be prepared, that’s what I know about Mike,” said Maas, who was offensive co-ordinator of the Ottawa Redblacks last season and watched his current team take the Cup from the opposing sideline in Winnipeg.
He would like to see a stronger start Thursday.
“We’ve been starting slow, stopping ourselves in games.”
He also saw the pressure the Winnipeg put on Hamilton’s quarterback last week.
“We’ve got to protect our quarterback and protect the ball … It’s hard to turn over the ball six times in a game and beat them.”