Buck Pierce is a go for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but the Toronto Argonauts can’t say the same about Ricky Ray and Chad Kackert just yet.
Pierce received medical clearance to resume playing Wednesday and will start Friday night at Rogers Centre against Toronto. But the Argos will wait until Thursday before announcing whether Ray (knee) and Kackert (ribs) will play.
Ray has missed three games with his injury while Kackert has been out two weeks. Both practised Wednesday but Argos head coach Scott Milanovich said the players would be re-examined later in the day and the club wouldn’t know until Thursday’s walkthrough if either will suit up against Winnipeg.
“I’m optimistic he (Ray) is going to play,” Milanovich told reporters following Wednesday’s practice in Oakville, Ont. “It’s not official until he goes through the process and we expect to have a definitive answer (Thursday).
“I think Chad is going to be able to go. He needs to see the doctor but I’m very optimistic he’ll be going.”
Pierce, 30, will make just his sixth start of the season Friday. But it will be his first since suffering a mild concussion after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit from Toronto’s Brandon Isaac in a 29-10 home loss to the Argos on Sept. 29.
Isaac was penalized on the play and later fined an undisclosed amount by the CFL. Winnipeg offensive linemen Steve Morley and Justin Sorensen were also fined for separate, retaliatory hits on Isaac.
Bombers cornerback Jovon Johnson later tweeted he had been fined $300 by the league for post-game comments about the incident.
Pierce said the Bombers are heading to Toronto to win a football game and not exact revenge.
“I’m playing Toronto, I’m not playing Brandon Isaac,” Pierce told reporters in Winnipeg. “We’re moving on from that, that was three weeks ago.
“There is always trash talk, that’s just part of the game. They’re going to play hard, they’re going to play tough, they’re going to get after you and I like that. I expect that.”
Both Milanovich and Bombers head coach Tim Burke believe there won’t be any negative carryover from Isaac’s controversial hit.
“Coach Burke is a good man and he’s not going to be coaching any of that stuff and neither are we,” Milanovich said. “We want, just like they do, a clean game of hard football and may the best team win.”
Added Burke: “We’re going to play hard, we’re going to play physical and we’re going to try to win the game. That’s all that matters and I’ve told them that if there’s any of that pushing, shoving stuff gets going, you’re coming out of the game.”
Pierce has endured a variety of injuries over his eight-year CFL career last month’s concussion prompted many suggestions from the media that the time had come for Pierce to retire for the sake of his overall health.
“It’s frustrating because there’s so much outside influence,” he said. “Everybody is giving their opinions telling you what you should do and ‘This is how Buck feels.’
“Well, no one really asked me. It’s up to the doctors, it’s up to the people that have my best interests in place to make those kind of decisions. I just had to trust in that.”
And Pierce insists any decisions regarding his football future are his to make.
“I respect everybody’s opinion but that’s their opinion,” he said. “I know how I feel and what my body can do.
“I love this game so much, I want to play as long as I can obviously. Definitely anything I can do to help the team or coach Crowton (Winnipeg offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton) or whatever quarterback that’s out there, I’m all about that.”
Pierce has completed 53-of-84 passes for 735 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions this season. After missing two games with the concussion, Pierce resumed practising Tuesday.
But Bombers’ receiver Terrence Edwards (foot) didn’t practise Wednesday for the second straight day. He will be a game-time decision.
Friday’s game will be the third meeting of the season between the two clubs, but if Pierce and Ray both play it would be their first head-to-head meeting this year.
Ray was 23-of-34 passing for 325 yards and three TDs in Toronto’s 25-22 home win over Winnipeg on July 18. Ray’s 37-yard scoring strike to Jason Barnes with 2:31 remaining earned the Argos the victory.
Alex Brink got the start for Winnipeg with Pierce nursing a foot injury. Brink was a dismal 9-of-34 passing for 185 yards and two interceptions in the contest.
Ray missed last month’s contest in Winnipeg with the knee injury. Backup Jarious Jackson stepped in and was 17-of-28 passing for 155 yards and a TD and added 51 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Pierce started for Winnipeg and was 8-of-13 passing for 120 yards with a TD and interception before Issac’s hit. Joey Elliott came on and finished 20-of-30 passing for 173 yards but had three interceptions.
If Ray plays, Milanovich said the veteran quarterback will don a knee brace that he’ll have to wear for the rest of the season. Should Ray be unable to play, Jackson would make his fourth straight start.
“Jarious has been getting all the reps all week,” Milanovich said. “Certainly that (Ray being unable to play) wouldn’t be what we want to hear but if that’s the case we’ll adjust.
“I thought (Ray) looked good (in practice). I thought he came along well. It’s better to be safe than sorry and have him checked out . . . but I think things are going well.”
Toronto (7-8) has dropped four of its last five games but can cement second in the East Division with a win over Winnipeg and having the Calgary Stampeders defeat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Saturday night.
Winnipeg (4-14) has the CFL’s worst record yet is still mathematically in playoff contention. But the Bombers trail Hamilton (5-10) and Edmonton (7-8) in the battle for the third and final East Division playoff spot with three weeks remaining in the regular season.
“We’re not mathematically eliminated so we’re going to try hard to win,” Burke said. “That’s our job, our job is to win football games.”