With first spot in the West locked up, the Bombers (14-2) are opting to rest several stars when they face the Lions in Vancouver (10-5) on Saturday night.
For B.C. head coach Rick Campbell, it doesn’t really matter who’s on the other side of the field.
“You take a look at their roster, there’s a whole bunch of really good football players and I know they’re gonna play hard like they always do,” he said.
“So we’ve just got to put our best foot forward and try and beat these guys.”
Winnipeg’s rejigged roster will see quarterback Dru Brown make his first CFL start, slotting in for star Zach Collaros. Several veteran offensive linemen will also get the night off, including Jermarcus Hardrick, Patrick Neufeld and Stanley Bryant.
A need to rest players prompted the moves, said Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea.
“You’re hampered by a (salary) cap and by the number of bodies you have available to you, so you can’t switch everybody out,” he said. “And there’s probably some guys playing that you may have liked to rest or they may have wanted to rest.
“But, for the most part, these guys all love playing football and if they’re able (to), they’re going to be out there.”
Though Brown is getting his first CFL start, the 25-year-old Oklahoma State product has suited up in all 16 of Winnipeg’s games this season and completed five of seven pass attempts for 127 yards.
Prepping for Saturday’s game isn’t any different than any other week, he said.
“I’m kind of a level-headed individual, I guess,” the second-year QB said. “Being out there, it’s a little bit different. It’s an emotional game and, obviously, you want to stay level-headed the whole time.
“But there’s also times to be spontaneous and have fun and celebrate and kind of ride with the emotions.”
All of the Bombers’ quarterbacks are athletic and the Lions will need to limit deep shots, no matter who’s passing the ball, said defensive back Marcus Sayles.
“They’re being coached the same way,” he said.
“We’ve just still got to come in, make sure he doesn’t extend plays just like Collaros does, because he’s learning from an experienced quarterback, so he probably has something in his bag as well.”
The Lions are coming off a frustrating 23-20 loss to the Argonauts in Toronto last week, and the defence will need to be at its best to earn a win this week, Sayles said.
“I think we’ve really just got to get back to making our takeaways. We haven’t had as many picks as we had back when we first started and I feel like that’s just where it starts,” he said.
“When you get an interception or forced fumble — just the energy of the stadium and the team just rises.”
Winnipeg trounced the Edmonton Elks 48-11 last week, the latest in a series of lopsided scores the Bombers have posted this season.
B.C.’s already been on the wrong end once this year, having dropped a 43-22 decision to Winnipeg back on July 9.
It’s a performance the Lions aren’t eager to repeat, especially as they push to secure the No. 2 spot in the West Division — and a home playoff game.
Knowing they’re going up against the potent Blue Bombers hasn’t changed how the Lions have prepared for the week, though, said quarterback Vernon Adams Jr.
“Obviously, they’re a great team, great chemistry, back-to-back champs. The defence, for the most part, they stick together, especially the front seven,” he said.
“Obviously, we want to be more locked in and everything because we’ve got the best team coming into the city, so just limit the mistakes and have fun out there.”
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (14-2) AT B.C. LIONS (10-5)
Saturday, 7 p.m., B.C. Place
HISTORY BOOKS: The Lions and Blue Bombers have faced off in 177 regular-season games and Winnipeg holds a 95-80-2 edge in the all-time series. B.C.’s last victory over Winnipeg came on July 14, 2018, at B.C. Place. The Bombers have since won three in a row in Vancouver.
SCHOEN VS. RHYMES: The game will feature the league’s top two receivers in Winnipeg’s Dalton Schoen (1,275 yards) and B.C.’s Dominique Rhymes (1,241).
ROURKE REPORT: B.C.’s star quarterback Nathan Rourke returned to limited practice this week. Campbell said there’s “a really good chance” the Canadian will play the Lions’ final game of the regular season in Winnipeg on Oct. 28.
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