Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea may not know exactly what to expect from the Ottawa RedBlacks on Thursday, but he says there are a lot of reasons, including quarterback Henry Burris, not to look at them as just an expansion team.
“They’re going to be well coached,” he said of the RedBlacks, who play their inaugural regular-season game Thursday at Investors Group Field. “Their GM didn’t hire guys that don’t have CFL experience. These are all guys that are very well-versed in the CFL game. They’re going to be well-prepared “The expansion draft saw them get a lot of good players. They’ve got a quarterback that passed for 50,000 (yards) and ran for five (thousand). He was right up there for MVP of the league last year. I don’t look at them as an expansion team.”
He says he expects them to come out flying.
He says the Bombers will only be guessing at what the RedBlacks will bring, but that same uncertainty applies to all teams up to a point at the start of a season.
Veteran Winnipeg defensive back Johnny Sears seconds O’Shea’s assessment of Burris, who took Hamilton to the Grey Cup final last year.
“They’ve got Henry Burris so you now they have a chance to win no matter who else they’ve got on the team, so that’s a challenge in itself,” said Sears, who will be competing against former teammate Jovon Johnson in Ottawa’s secondary.
Burris, 39, shows no signs of slowing down. After 14 seasons in the CFL with Calgary, Saskatchewan and Hamilton, he has completed 3,672 passes for 51,526 yards and 324 touchdowns. He’s rushed for another 5,033 yards and 55 touchdowns.
He earned two Grey Cup rings with the Stampeders, one in 1998 as a backup and another in 2008 as the starter.
The Bombers were also looking at Burris in the off-season, but he picked the expansion RedBlacks, who bring the nation’s capital back to the CFL for the first time since 2005. The Ottawa Renegades, the short-lived replacement for the Ottawa Rough Riders, folded after just four seasons due to mounting losses.
Not that Winnipeg is unhappy with its final choice at quarterback, former Saskatchewan Roughriders backup Drew Willy.
The Bombers surprised many by dominating the Toronto Argonauts 45-21 last week with strong games from both their offence and defence.
Willy threw four touchdown passes in that win but says as far as preparing for Ottawa, he agrees they will have to wait and see Thursday.
“You kind of look at the [defensive] co-ordinator’s past and where the head coach has been and try to get some tendencies here and there but they could come out with something entirely different so really you’ve got to play what your eyes see,” he said.
He said they’ve prepared well for that with the unorthodox defence they had to compete against in Bomber training camp.