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Bombers expect Argos to remain true to their offensive identity even with new starter

Toronto will have a new starter under centre, but Winnipeg defensive back Brandon Alexander isn't expecting wholesale changes when the Blue Bombers visit the Argonauts on Saturday.

Toronto will have a new starter under centre, but Winnipeg defensive back Brandon Alexander isn't expecting wholesale changes when the Blue Bombers visit the Argonauts on Saturday.

Nick Arbuckle will make his first start for Toronto (1-1) in its home opener and rematch with the Blue Bombers (2-0). Arbuckle relieved veteran McLeod Bethel-Thompson in the second half and led the Argos to their lone touchdown in a 20-7 loss at IG Field.

Arbuckle finished 10-of-19 passing for 96 yards with an interception. Bethel-Thompson completed 10-of-20 attempts for 70 yards.

"They going to basically accommodate what (Arbuckle) likes to do," Alexander said during a video conference Thursday. "But they're going to keep their same offence (and) how their system works.

"Toronto is going to stay Toronto . . . but with a new quarterback, we expect to see a couple new things."

Alexander said trying to beat an opponent in consecutive weeks is never easy.

"They're still going to be who they are, but it's going to be a different atmosphere, different feeling going (on the road)," he said. "Back-to-back is definitely going to be tough."

Last week’s action was Arbuckle’s first since 2019 when he was with the Calgary Stampeders. That year, Arbuckle won four of the seven games he started in place of injured starter Bo Levi Mitchell, completing 174-of-238 passes (73.1 per cent) for 2,103 yards and 11 touchdowns with just five interceptions.

He also ran for 76 yards and four TDs. Calgary won the Grey Cup in 2018, Arbuckle’s first CFL season.

Arbuckle, 27, signed with Toronto as a free agent earlier this year and dealt with a hamstring issue during training camp. But Arbuckle said Tuesday he’s been healthy since the start of the season.

"We know him from '19 with Calgary, he was a pretty good quarterback there," Alexander said. "He has a little bit of Bo Levi in him as far as being able get it out and get to his receivers fast and him making his reads fast. 

"We've just got to make sure we're on our game and lined up ready to go and ready to play. If we're lined up then we'll be OK."

Winnipeg's defence has been very good so far this season, allowing a CFL-low 6.5 offensive points per game. And that's with defensive lineman Willie Jefferson, the league's top defensive player in 2019, not having registered a sack yet although he does have an interception.

"Willie is Willie, he still makes plays regardless of if he has a sack or not," Alexander said. "Him being on the field is just a presence of its own.

"I'm not worried about it."

As solid as Winnipeg's defence was last week — Toronto's offence mustered 289 total yards and had the ball less than 27 minutes — it showed a vulnerability against the run. John White IV ran for 111 yards on 12 carries (9.2-yard average) and a TD.

"During the week we definitely said something about it because we (take) pride in playing the run pretty well," Alexander said. "We let a couple of them slip past us, and that's all 12 of us who are on the field.

"We have to let it roll it off our backs, we have another game to play this week and we play the same running back. You have to take it like you would a play. If you mess up on a play, you let it roll off your back (and) it's the next one. Same thing with the game."

Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea said he didn't have to say a word to his defence about how it can improve its play against the run.

"They know immediately, before they even come to the sidelines, exactly what had happened, where the run hit, how it hit, whether or not they missed a tackle," O'Shea said. "Sometimes as a coach you waste a lot of breath saying, 'Hey, you know you should've done that?'

"They already know that, right? That's why they're pros."

O'Shea knows all about how to defend against the run. The 50-year-old North Bay, Ont., native played 16 CFL seasons as a stalwart linebacker with Toronto and Hamilton (1993-08), winning three Grey Cups and amassing 1,151 tackle to earn induction before being inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2017.

"Rushing plays make yards because you're either out of your gap so you're not doing your assignment or you missed tackles," O'Shea said. "When they make big yards there's usually a couple mistakes (and) when they score, there's usually three or more mistakes.

"I think they (Bombers defensive players) are focused on not a specific number of yards given up, just basically those particular plays where they resulted in explosive runs against us. I think to a man they're happy with the 'W' and all understand that they can be better."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 19, 2021.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press