Mike O'Shea hates losing.
The first-year head coach has made that much crystal clear in his pair of post-game media sessions. His Blue Bombers are winless and their preseason schedule is complete. Now two days into a 12-day stretch before the regular season begins, Winnipeg's freshly-minted field general is communicating optimism and relaying the positives in his football club.
"I think the offence did a great job," O'Shea told reporters on Monday afternoon, his first availability in Winnipeg following the Bombers' 23-20 loss in Calgary on Saturday. "When you look at the numbers to go along with that film — no two-and-outs, 26 first downs — that should be good enough to win."
But it's tough to beat a team like the Calgary Stampeders at McMahon when you spot them a 14-point lead after a quarter of play. So is O'Shea at all concerned with his starting defence allowing touchdown drives of 52 and 59 yards in Calgary's first three possessions, and 129 rushing yards in the first half?
"No. No, I am not concerned at all. I know what we've put in and I know that we'll keep working. The effort is there. The buy-in is there. I'm excited, actually. I got pulled out of the defensive meeting to come (speak to media). I just missed some great stuff."
This seems somewhat contradictory when you look at the ease in which the Stampeders offence trotted down the field in the opening twenty minutes when it was starters versus starters.
O'Shea has stated that coordinator Gary Etcheverry's defence has been purposefully "vanilla" in their preseason looks, keeping their cards close to the vest. And consider the likes of Johnny Sears and Donovan Alexander — two probable Week 1 starters — were also out of Saturday's lineup as they continue to recover from groin and calf injuries, respectively.
The offence, meanwhile, indeed looked calculated and collected with Drew Willy at the helm. The first-year starter finished his day 14-of-23 for 172 yards, and could have been upwards of 70 per cent passing if it weren't for a few easily caught balls that slipped through the hands of his receivers.
"We started slow again, I think as an entire team. We have to find a way to rectify that," said O'Shea when questioned about his offence. "I thought the offence performed very well. I thought they played with a lot of heart. They played a real physical style. We ran the ball. We threw the ball. We moved the ball down the field. We moved the ball out from our own end. Maybe we didn't capitalize on enough of those opportunities down deep. There's some very positive things."
"We are still evaluating the No. 2 (quarterback) position, for sure," added O'Shea. "But yes, it was important to put Drew (Willy) back out there, and to give credit where it's due, (offensive coordinator) Marcel (Bellefeuille) came to me (at halftime) and said, 'let's put him back out.' And we did."
Keeping Willy in for the opening possession of the third quarter proved shrewd, as he engineered his third scoring drive on 10 plays that covered 76 yards before stalling on first-and-goal. Coming out after the break and continuing to build in-game experience with his receivers, backs, and linemen should prove worthwhile as the new No. 1 establishes chemistry with the pieces around him.
Quarterbacks Brian Brohm, Max Hall, and Robert Marve all saw time running Winnipeg's offence in preseason games, and it looks from afar that a decision will have to be made between Brohm and Hall as to who will backup Willy. Young Marve's cannon-arm, deep ball accuracy, and ability to turn up field and dash for first downs will likely see him stick around as he familiarizes himself with the Canadian game. It's been a while since there has been a young project pivot in Winnipeg. The potential is there.
Several projected starters missed the game in Calgary, including slotbacks Nick Moore (back) and Cory Watson (hamstring), cornerback Donovan Alexander (calf), and defensive back/linebacker Johnny Sears (groin). O'Shea says Watson will finally return to practice this week after sitting out since Day 2 of camp... Another National slotback, Julian Feoli-Gudino, suffered a "lower-body" injury late last week and looks to return soon, as the club may have to start him next to Watson and Rory Kohlert in a three-National receiver set since the loss of defensive tackle Ryan Lucas for the season with an ACL tear... The old adage 'You can't make the club from the tub' is beginning to find reference alongside every mention of 2013 All-Star running back Will Ford's name as of late. The position battle between rookies Nic Grigsby and Paris Cotton is reaching critical mass, and Ford's layup since Day 3 of camp with a hamstring pull just may cost him his job... Speaking of Cotton, who was again impressive with the ball in his second preseason game (5 carries for 58 yards, 2 receptions for 24 yards), suffered an undisclosed leg injury late on Saturday. The explosive and slippery tailback is receiving assessment from the doctor on Monday and an update will be provided this week... According to the media release sent out by the team Monday morning, National linebacker Graig Newman, whom Kyle Walters targeted aggressively in free agency this winter, will "miss the 2014 season" with a dislocated and fractured ankle. Mike O'Shea isn't so sure stating, "I'm not saying he's done for the season... I'm optimistic and so is (Newman). We'll see him soon... Ask me again in a couple months. Three months, possibly. He's got a good spirit." Newman underwent surgery on Monday.