These are hard times for the defending East Division champions.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have dropped three straight games and are the CFL’s lone remaining winless squad. And not only is the club coming off a lopsided 42-10 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos, they are limping into Rogers Centre to face defensive end Erijo Kuale and the Toronto Argonauts on Wednesday night.
Backup quarterback Alex Brink will get the start for Winnipeg after incumbent Buck Pierce hurt his foot against Edmonton. Brink also left the game versus the Eskimos after taking a nasty hit from linebacker J.C. Sherritt.
“I’m expecting a lot out of him,” Kuale said of Brink. “Just because he’s the backup, we’re not going to treat him any different because he has the tools to be the starter.
“He has a great arm. Playing him last year, he makes great decisions and he’s more elusive than everyone thinks he is. We’re going into this week as if Buck is playing because both of them can run, both of them can throw, both of them can make the throws they have to in order to win the game.”
Running back Chad Simpson will make his 2012 debut for Winnipeg. He will start at tailback in place of Bloi-Dei Dorzon and be backed up by Canadian rookie Nathan Riva, a former Western Mustangs star. Dorzon, who started the Bombers’ first three games, won’t dress for Wednesday’s contest.
Simpson was injured during training camp.
The Bombers’ were one of the CFL’s biggest stories last season, surging to a 7-1 record en route to capturing top spot in the East Division with 10-8 mark. In fact, Winnipeg didn’t suffer its third loss of 2011 until the 11th week of the season.
But the Grey Cup finalists have struggled this year, having scored a league-low 56 points while allowing 116 points, tops in the CFL.
The Bombers might be down, but Argos head coach Scott Milanovich says they’re still very dangerous.
“From an offensive standpoint they’re getting a lot of big plays,” he said. “Our guys are going to have to play the deep ball really well and continue to stop the run.
“Defensively, historically they’ve been a press-man defence, very aggressive, been able to rush the passer with four and stop the run. We’re going to have to find a balance there like we do every week.”
Argos starter Ricky Ray also has a healthy respect for Winnipeg’s defensive unit.
“I still see them playing hard, playing fast,” he said. “They still have a good rush with their front four and have some good DBs in the back end, (Jonathan) Hefney and (Jovon) Johnson and (Ian) Logan at safety who have been in that system for a while.
“They’re still a dangerous team defensively. You don’t want to make mistakes with them because they have guys who can play the ball really well in the back end and get some turnovers.”
Toronto made two changes on its 46-man roster, adding American kicker Swayze Waters and Canadian safety Etienne Boulay, who both signed with the club earlier this week.
Swayze replaces veteran kicker Noel Prefontaine, who went on the nine-game injured list this week with a hip ailment that will require surgery.
The Argos (1-2) are also entering Wednesday’s contest on a losing note, dropping a 36-27 road decision to the arch-rival Hamilton Tiger-Cats last weekend. In that game, Ticats’ star Chris Williams returned a punt and missed field goal for first-half touchdowns.
It marked the second straight game Toronto had surrendered a TD off a missed field goal and the cover unit will face a stiff challenge Wednesday containing speedy Winnipeg returner Demond Washington. But Milanovich said his club’s coverage woes won’t prevent him from trying longer field goals against the Bombers.
“When you’re in field-goal range and it’s reasonable, meaning inside of 50, you have to trust your guys,” he said. “You have to trust them to make the kick and if he doesn’t make it you have to trust them to cover it.
“That’s not going to change for me. I have a ton of confidence in our guys and our coaching staff. I think we’re going to see things rectified.”