Manitoba

Bombers offensive line taking Drew Willy injury personally

Stanley Bryant and Dominic Picard are not happy hogs these days. The veteran offensive linemen were brought in to help protect starting Blue Bombers quarterback Drew Willy and stabilize a unit that had given up a franchise-high 71 sacks last year.

Willy suffered fracture to his shinbone as well as partial ligament tear in right knee

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Drew Willy (5) is taken down hard by B.C. Lions' Solomon Elimimian (56) and Alex Hoffman-Ellis (11) during the first half of CFL action in Winnipeg on July 30, 2015. The B.C. Lions' defence isn't used to getting criticized. After years of dominant performances, the Lions's defensive unit has faltered in 2015. It occupied the CFL's basement in passing and rushing yards allowed heading into their tilt with the surging Edmonton Eskimos last week. (Canadian Press/John Woods)

Stanley Bryant and Dominic Picard are not happy hogs these days.

The veteran offensive linemen were brought in to help protect starting Blue Bombers quarterback Drew Willy and stabilize a unit that had given up a franchise-high 71 sacks last year.

Heading into Friday's game against the visiting Toronto Argonauts (4-2), Willy is on the sidelines with a serious knee injury and Winnipeg (3-4) has allowed a league-high 23 sacks through seven games — the same number after seven games last season. That hasn't reflected well on the "hogs," the colourful nickname given to the players on Winnipeg's offensive line.

"The whole offensive line, we take pride in protecting our quarterback so it's never easy to see our starting quarterback go down like it happened," Picard, a 10-year centre, said after the team's Thursday walk-through practice.

"We take it personal, for sure. At the same time, we're moving on and we've got to step up and play better as an offence. We're 12 guys on the field on offence so we all have got to do our job."

The line will be protecting third-string quarterback Robert Marve on Friday as he starts his first pro game instead of backup Brian Brohm.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Drew Willy, centre, is assisted off of the field after being injured Sunday against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. (Peter Power/Canadian Press)

Winnipeg's offence will also be without starting running back Paris Cotton (broken arm), leading receiver Darvin Adams (undisclosed) and offensive left guard Patrick Neufeld (broken thumb). Chris Greaves will replace Neufeld after being a healthy scratch the past two games.

Knowing Willy is out a minimum six to eight weeks after suffering a tibial plateau fracture and a partial posterior cruciate ligament tear in his right knee has been hard to swallow, said left tackle Bryant, a free-agent signing in his sixth CFL season.

"Right now for us, I think it's tough because three games out of seven we've seen Drew on the ground…," Bryant said.

"I'll say, for me, it's kind of disappointing because I know I was brought here to be one of the guys to keep Drew upright, or any quarterback upright. But we just have to be better as a whole, starting from the offensive line to the receivers to the running backs and any guy that's blocking."

Marve said the offensive line met with him privately after he was named the starter and he didn't sense they were down on themselves.

"If anything, those guys have been the most positive group," Marve said. "They kind of came at me and said, 'Hey, we've got you. Let's make plays happen together."'

Marve's not afraid to move out of the pocket, which might be good or a challenge for the hogs.

"It could be both," head coach Mike O'Shea said. "I think it's going to be positive. There is the idea that offensive lines like to know where the quarterback sets up, but if Robert scrambles he knows he's going on his own."

Toronto's defence has recorded 14 sacks this season, tying them for fourth in the league with Montreal.

Winnipeg's defence will be welcoming linemen Greg Peach and Bryant Turner back from injury.

They'll be tasked with putting pressure on Argos quarterback Trevor Harris. Toronto has given up 15 sacks and the Bombers have pulled down pivots 12 times.

The Argonauts will have 2012 Grey Cup most valuable player Chad Kackert backing up running back Henry Josey. Kackert hasn't played since 2013 because of injuries and retirement. Slotback Anthony Coombs returns to the lineup after missing the last game.

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