An eye-opening 3-0 start following a tumultuous 3-15 season has more than a few across southern Manitoba and the entire CFL landscape taken aback by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and their surge out of the gate to start 2014. But don't think for a second the club's rookie head coach is surprised.
Answered in language reminiscent of a coach delivering his halftime speech in a Hollywood underdog story, Winnipeg's Mike O'Shea responded matter-of-factly when asked if he was surprised by his team's 3-0 start.
"No. No. This is what you put the work in for. This is why you make the decisions you make. This is why you keep the players you keep, and this is why you coach them as hard as you do. You do it because these guys want to win, and you need to give them your best shot," O'Shea told TSN 1290 Radio. "The group of guys we've got in here and how quickly they've bought in to what we're trying to do and accepted some change is just a credit to those guys. The guys in the room are the ones that get it done on the field."
But neither the coach or the players are resting on the laurels from a quick start to the season.
"We're not satisfied with what we've done so far," said O'Shea. "We're satisfied with the fact we've got six points (in the standings), but when we look at the film and we see the number of mistakes and the number of penalties and the decisions we're making that cost us plays and drives, we're not satisfied with that by any stretch of the imagination. We're not pleased."
Early success and finding it were part of O'Shea's plan to help turn the Blue Bombers franchise around and get it back on a track to sustained success.
"I said it right from the start. We need to win and win early to get this started. To get whatever this buy-in, the feeling, to be able to exhale and let stuff go from the prior year. But, once again, I wasn't here last year so I don't now how beaten-down they were."
The last couple years in Winnipeg have been rough on those in the football club, and that's putting things mildly. O'Shea wants to ensure any lingering negativity from seasons past is wiped away, and that veteran Blue Bombers are ready to move on.
"The idea that it's not 'here we go again.' I think with some teams you can sense it. You can sense the attitude just changes to, 'oh, here we go again,' and it was important that we got rid of that very quickly. This isn't, 'here we go again.' This is something completely different. We should be past that stage now. With these two last wins, coming from behind, I think we're past that now, so whatever that next challenge is it gets revealed in the next tight game. We've got to be able to conquer that too."
That next challenge will likely come in the first marquee matchup of the 2014 CFL season, as the Week 4 schedule kicks off with a battle of the undefeated Thursday night. The 3-0 Edmonton Eskimos enter Winnipeg's Investors Group Field looking to knock off the 3-0 Blue Bombers and grab sole possession of first place in the West.
In addition to the return of defensive tackle Zach Anderson from a heel contusion, the only major change to Winnipeg's lineup this week is at boundary wide receiver. Aaron Kelly's left knee injury, deemed by Mike O'Shea as "a pain management" issue, will keep the receiver on the sidelines. Starting in his place will be 34-year-old Romby Bryant, who makes his first start in Blue and Gold since he was traded to Calgary back in 2009.
"It feels good to get out there and get another chance, and play where it all started at," said Bryant, who began his CFL career with the Blue Bombers in 2008. "That's how I'm looking at it, is coming full circle. Do it for the fans that embraced me when I first got here."
Bryant was released by the Toronto Argonauts earlier this season and signed with Winnipeg as a free agent in late June.