Friday, June 14, 2024

“Biggie’s Back”: Bombers star LB Bighill expected back vs. Redblacks

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The first sign that Adam Bighill may be close to a return for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was the linebacker’s fully kitted-out appearance in football gear on Sunday afternoon.

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The second came later on when he was among the starters during the 12-on-12 period.

The final sign, the one you’d take all the way to the bank, was the words from the man himself.

“I expect to play this week,” Bighill said ahead of Winnipeg’s clash with the Ottawa Redblacks on Thursday in the nation’s capital.

After starting the season on the six-game injured list, it appears Bighill’s stint will have only lasted through Week 1 and Winnipeg’s dismal performance in a 27-12 loss to the Montreal Alouettes in last Thursday’s Grey Cup rematch.

The team could use his undeniable skill and unmatched leadership on defence after Cody Fajardo and Tyson Philpot swiss-cheesed the defence at Princess Auto Stadium to open the 2024 CFL season.

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“He looks good,” head coach Mike O’Shea said. “He’s so smart. He’s got so much experience. Certainly helps everybody else around him.”

In mid-May, O’Shea was hopeful that Bighill wouldn’t need the full six weeks after being added to Winnipeg’s injury list before the team even played their first preseason game.

Bighill wouldn’t say what his injury was on Sunday and declined to confirm or deny that it was a continuation of a calf injury that he picked up in last year’s West Final.

The 35-year-old ended up playing on the bummed leg in the Grey Cup but was far from his best in Winnipeg’s 28-24 loss to Montreal in Regina.

Bighill said Sunday that’s all behind him, and quashed any concerns he’s rushing back to the lineup after Thursday’s concerning defeat.

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“I’m coming back exactly at the right time,” he said. “That’s what our medical team believes, what I believe. At the end of the day, you follow the direction of the people that take good care of us and (Bombers head athletic therapist Al Couture) is the man for t hat.”

A healthy Bighill showed no signs of slowing down last season.

In 17 games, he made 74 tackles, four sacks and rumbled to the end zone on a fumble recovery.

“It’s exciting,” pivot Zach Collaros said after seeing Bighill in full pads. “After seeing what he went through at the end of last season and having to miss most of training game and the first game, any time you get more leadership on the field, it’s a good thing.”

Bighill has been in the locker room and was on the sidelines on Thursday, doing his best to play a part by being as positive as possible.

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A helpless feeling at times for the six-time league all-star.

“You already know it is what it is, you can’t control too much but help the guys on the sideline and be as prepared as you can for the next series and half-time,” he said.

Bighill saw was everyone else did.

“They played some good football but we know we can be better,” he said. “We gave up some explosions we didn’t have to. We had some penalties we didn’t need to have. Those are the things that lose games and that’s obviously what happened.

“All things we know we have to clean up. But we just gotta do it. Can’t talk about it. We gotta do it. We know how to win and we have to take care of those details to do it.”

To that point, practice had a better tempo, O’Shea said.

He bemoaned being a step behind on Thursday and, after digesting the loss over the weekend, reiterated the same point after Sunday’s workout.

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“We didn’t execute at (a high) level, and certainly didn’t play physical enough,” he said.

Meanwhile, Brady Oliveira, who ran for just 38 yards on 11 carries, wasn’t in pads for practice.

O’Shea said his star running back was nicked up in Thursday and needed another day of rest after missing all of training camp due to injury.

“He’s a veteran, he went in there and basically had a clean sheet,” O’Shea said. “It’s probably going to be one of those processes where we ease him back into it.”

O’Shea was optimistic that the 2023 Most Outstanding Canadian would be available to him in Ottawa.

“I feel pretty good about it right now,” he said.

The team is likely facing a situation where they’ll have to monitor Oliveira and his fitness levels in between games after missing camp.

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And still on the injury front, dynamic receiver Kenny Lawler was expectedly absent Sunday after reportedly fracturing his arm during Thursday’s loss.

“He’s going to need more than a week, for sure,” O’Shea said, declining to confirm the fractured arm report.

He’s likely to be on the six-game list once Winnipeg’s roster for Week 2 is released Wednesday.

“You can’t really fill the void that is Kenny,” Collaros said. “But we have some good, young players out there. Guys that are hungry for an opportunity. I expect them all to play at a high level, given the opportunity.”

Canadian Kevens Clercius filled that void, while practice roster members Josh Johnson and Keric Wheatfall also saw reps with the first team.

“Size, caught a lot of footballs today,” O’Shea said of Wheatfall. “The guys we’ve kept, we’ve got good options. At some point, by the end of Day 3, we’re going to figure out how we’re going to lineup.”

X: @scottbilleck

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