WINNIPEG — In the wake of the Bombers’ 44-32 win over the Argos at the Rogers Centre last Friday, a surging Winnipeg offence has received no shortage of attention.
After facing criticism earlier in the season despite missing their field general Buck Pierce under centre, the team has caught the CFL by surprise in the last few weeks with impressive road wins over the Alouettes and Argos.
Winning the trenches
“We have a young group, we just continue to work hard and we keep our mouths shut and bring a lunch-pail mentality.”
– Bombers veteran left tackle Glenn January
Suddenly rookie offensive coordinator Gary Crowton is looking like a genius; the future doesn’t look as bleak as many outsiders had anticipated with two young up-and-comers at quarterback in Joey Elliott and Alex Brink; while a healthy Buck Pierce has the Blue and Gold still in the playoff discussion with just two weeks remaining.
And as healthy as Pierce is, so is the Bombers’ running game. First-year runner Chad Simpson has eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards despite missing the first few weeks of the season with an injury. Last game, he teamed up with another rookie running back, Will Ford, to combine for 221 yards on the ground.
Of course, underlying all of that is the offensive line.
It’s one of the youngest starting units in the league, with an average age of 27-and-a-half years old, and it’s been arguably the primary reason the Bombers have had so much success winning the battle in the running game.
Simpson was quick to credit the offensive line for his impressive all-around rookie season following Friday’s win, and this week with all of the talk of a dominant Bombers ground attack, he didn’t hesitate to once again deflect praise.
“I was telling people all year that they’re the only unit that got better every game,” the 27-year-old native of Miami, Fla. reminded us. “They never took a decline, the o-line, so kudos to them.”
Ford, a five-foot-eight scatback who joined the Bombers in the summer following early-season injuries to Chris Garrett along with Simpson, echoes that praise.
“The offensive linemen have been playing great, so taking advantage of the trenches was a big step for us,” he said.
Glenn January, the anchor of the Bombers’ o-line as protector of Pierce’s blind side, said that his unit feels pride in the success of the ground game this season – and looks to continue that grind-it-out playing style in the trenches.
“We have a young group, we just continue to work hard and we keep our mouths shut and bring a lunch-pail mentality,” said January, the second oldest of the group at 29 years old, now in his sixth season in the CFL.
“We’re not seeking the limelight, but to get some words of appreciation from fans is very rewarding.”
January was named an East Division All-Star for the Bombers in 2011, a year after missing the entire 2010 campaign with a torn pectoral muscle during pre-season, and appears to be well on his way to another All-Star selection.
The veteran tackle, whose career began with the Argos in 2007 before being traded to the Riders in the same deal that brought Kerry Joseph to Toronto, admitted having a couple of great runners back there doesn’t hurt matters.
“Both of them are explosive, dynamic backs, and I think we have a bit of a thunder-lightning package going on right now because they bring a little bit of a different style of play to the game,” said January.
“They’re an excellent one-two combo and I’m happy to have the opportunity to block for both of them in a game.”
Simpson, Ford pushing each other
Despite missing the first three games of the season with an injury, Simpson currently sits fifth in the league in carries among running backs with 168 in 13 games, for an average of close to 13 carries a game.
But the recent emergence of some competition in the Bombers backfield has given the speedy runner a little bit of competition – something Ford says can help everyone improve. “We critique each other and we just try to make each other better,” said Ford, who rushed for 4,688 yards and 35 touchdowns over a four-year college career with the South Carolina State Bulldogs.
“We get enthused off each other – he has a good run and if I can get in and have a good run we just try to make each other better each and every play.”
Apparently this whole ‘pushing each other’ idea is hardly a new concept for the two rookie backs.
“Even when we were at different schools, I was leading rusher my senior year and he was chasing me,” Simpson pointed out. “Competition brings champions and I think he’s definitely going to make me better, and I’m going to make him better.”