Kenny Lawler stared daggers when asked how he and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers receiving corps would step up in the potential absence of fellow wideout Dalton Schoen in Sunday’s Grey Cup.
Schoen and linebacker Adam Bighill were both dressed in street clothes on the sidelines at Tim Hortons Field on Thursday morning as the Blue Bombers prepared to play the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL championship game. Schoen has missed Winnipeg’s past three game with an ankle injury and Bighill has been on the Blue Bombers’ injury report this week with a hurt calf.
Lawler sat in stony silence for more than 10 seconds when asked about stepping up in Schoen’s absence before cracking a little to say that his non-answer was just following head coach Mike O’Shea’s advice.
O’Shea had little to add in the way of an update on either Schoen or Bighill.
“Day to day,” said O’Shea after the practice.
Schoen won the CFL’s most outstanding rookie award in 2022 and was Winnipeg’s leading receiver this season. The 27-year-old American had 71 catches for 1,222 yards and a league-high 10 touchdown catches in 16 regular-season games.
Bighill, three times the CFL’s top defensive player, played in Saturday’s 24-31 win over the B.C. Lions in the CFL West final, registering a tackle. He reportedly sustained a leg injury in the first quarter while chasing B.C. quarterback Vernon Adams Jr.
Although Lawler and O’Shea were tight-lipped about Schoen and how Winnipeg’s offence might have to adapt, quarterback Zach Collaros had lots to say.
“I think every receiver has their strengths. I think I’m sitting next to the best receiver in the CFL,” said Collaros, gesturing to Lawler. “We’re going to cater a lot of things and a lot of looks to his strengths.
“We also have Nic Demski, who is a 1,000-yard guy, Drew Wolitarsky in any other system would probably be a 1,000-yard guy, obviously [Rasheed Bailey] has been that guy for us for a long time.”
Lawler had 50 catches for 901 yards and six TDs this season. Over Winnipeg’s past four games, he has 24 catches for 335 yards. Although he had nothing to say about Schoen’s situation, Lawler was effusive about the rest of the Blue Bombers receivers.
“I’m here with my guys, right? I’m here with the gang and I’m here with my coaches, I’m here with the organization, that’s what has me confident,” Lawler said. “I believe that everyone on this team is like-minded, we know what we’ve got to do, we’ve got to play by our pillars.
“I’m in a rabbit hole with my guys and there’s no place I’d rather be. That’s what has me confident.”
The Blue Bombers will play in their fourth consecutive Grey Cup and are looking for their third CFL title over that span. Whether Schoen plays or not, Collaros feels his team will adapt under the guidance of offensive co-ordinator Buck Pierce.
“I think Buck does a really good job of moving the guys around and catering to their strengths,” said Collaros. “Obviously, Dalton’s a big piece of what we do, I’m not taking anything away from that, I think he’s one of the best receivers in the league, if not the best in the league as well.
“He does a lot but we’ll be ready to go no matter what that looks like on Sunday.”
The 5-foot-10, 223-pound Bighill had a team-high 74 defensive tackles this season. The Bombers’ defensive captain also added four sacks, three tackles for a loss and a fumble recovery.
Winnipeg’s defence led the CFL in fewest points allowed (18.2 per game), offensive TDs (27), net yards (298.8), passing yards (229.4) and were third against the run (90.4 per game).