Blue Bombers, Argonauts set to open CFL season

Veteran Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray certainly isn't all the Blue Bombers have to worry about as the teams prepare for Thursday's CFL season opener in Winnipeg (8:30 p.m. ET). "They've got a lot of weapons," says Bombers rookie coach Mike O'Shea.

Rookie Winnipeg coach O'Shea set to meet former team

The Blue Bombers are staking a lot on quarterback Drew Willy, right, seen here in pre-season action against Toronto. He has connected on 101 of 147 passes in two seasons as a backup for Saskatchewan for a 68.7 per cent completion rate. (Trevor Hagan/Canadian Press)

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea knows exactly what the Toronto Argonauts and quarterback Ricky Ray can do to an opponent.

And he says Ray certainly isn't all the Bombers have to worry about.

"They've got a lot of weapons," said O'Shea, Toronto's former special teams co-ordinator until he got the top coaching job in Winnipeg.

We'd like to come out there and be as physical as we can and set a standard, set up a minimum standard for us and keep building from there.- Blue Bombers coach Mike O'Shea on Thursday's season opener

"It just so happens that the ball always travels through Ricky first. But, obviously, I'm quite familiar with all the guys they have and what they can do offensively."

The Bombers play the Argos in the CFL season opener Thursday at Investors Group Field (8:30 p.m. ET).

"We'd like to come out there and be as physical as we can and set a standard, set up a minimum standard for us and keep building from there," said O'Shea. "We're going our there to win and set a pace for the season."

If the Bombers want to see how rookie starting quarterback Drew Willy performs under pressure, they couldn't ask for a better opponent.

3-time champion

Ray has thrown 3,780 completed passes for 251 touchdowns and three Grey Cups over 11 seasons in the league with Edmonton and Toronto.

Willy has completed 101 of 147 passes for nine touchdowns in two seasons as a backup in Saskatchewan. During that time, he has only made four starts.

The Bombers are staking a lot on Willy as they try to appease fans turned off by recent struggles, while the Argos want to get back to the Grey Cup after stumbling in last year's East final.

Willy says keeping Ray off the field as much as possible is going to be a key for the Bombers Thursday.

"We definitely need to be efficient," he said of the offence. "We need to make sure our drives take some time."

Oh, and scoring touchdowns rather than field goals would also be good, he noted.

One thing Willy brings to the table is durability. He says he has only missed two games due to injury in his career, a hand injury in practice that cost him two games when he was in his sophomore career at the University of Buffalo.

Guaranteed effort

Veteran lineman Glenn January couldn't promise a win, but he did promise a lot of effort come Thursday night

"I think we're going to be a passionate team and we're going to be a well-prepared team," he said.

"The way that you win games is by winning each individual play."

The Argos also bring former Winnipeg head coach Tim Burke back to Investors. He was sacked after last year's disappointing 3-15 finish, is now defensive co-ordinator for the Argos and January said he will likely bring a lot to this game.

The Argonauts finished 11-7 in the regular season last year but then fell to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East final.

They beat the Bombers all three times last season and also beat them in their first pre-season game this year, 24-22.

"If we go out there and we do stumble and don't get the win, it's not the end of the world," January said. "It's an 18-game season."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.