The infirmary is filling up quickly in Winnipeg, and the offensively fraught Blue Bombers are counting on a few number-twos to fill in and help the club earn their first win at Investors Group Field, and more importantly, snag another victory over an East Division rival before a string of contests against a dangerous looking West.
"As the football nature of things work, you always get hurt at the same position," said head coach Tim Burke. "It's the way it always works."
Starting defensive tackles Bryant Turner and J.T. Gilmore remain out for Week 4 against the visiting Argonauts, as well as linebackers Rene Stephan and Jeremy McGee. Terrell Parker, the team's new starting weak-side linebacker, was lost to a torn ACL against the Tiger-Cats in Week 3.
Ian Wild was activated off the practice roster and will slot in for Parker as well as for long-snapper Chris Cvetkovic who injured his calf in practice.
"It definitely helps that you have one of the best defences in the CFL that you're playing on," said Wild, who enters his first professional game this week. "You've just got to do your role. I think that's why our defence is so good, because everybody does their role and we play team defence."
Some good news on the Blue and Gold injury front is the long-awaited return of strong-side linebacker Johnny Sears after recovering from offseason knee surgery.
"Everything is feeling good right now so it's about time to get back and let loose," said Sears, who thinks he and Wild will have a smooth transition into the starting lineup. "I think we'll be able to hit the ground running. I think it was difficult the first day at practice because new guys were getting in new positions but I think from watching a lot of film and getting the reps at practice — single reps for just us in particular — I think we should be fine."
The most devastatingly hit position is the receiving corps — the same group quarterback Buck Pierce is having trouble utilizing consistently through the season's first three weeks.
Starters Terrence Edwards (shoulder), Chris Matthews (back), and leading pass-catcher Cory Watson (hamstring) are all out, leaving backups Isaac Anderson, Doug Pierce, and Rory Kholert to fill in. Third-year receivers Jade Etienne and Clarence Denmark round out the suddenly inexperienced group.
But whoever is on the receiving end, it all starts with offensive leader Buck Pierce, who has taken an inordinate amount of sacks this season as offensive coordinator Gary Crowton's new system for 2013 works to keep him "protected" in the pocket.
"Sometimes Buck has got to help us by getting rid of the ball," said Crowton. "I think Buck can do a little bit better job getting rid of that football and not take the sacks. Even though we gave up six sacks (against Hamilton), which we're not happy with at all, I think the rest of the time we were passing we had a cleaner pocket. He has better vision and could see what he was looking at without a guy in his face when throwing the ball. That was positive. We just can't have those errors."
But after another relatively uninspiring outing under Crowton's new system, the team plans to take the reins off Pierce in Week 4 and allow him to play his gunslinger-type game and work to extend plays outside of the pocket.
"Until you really break out and have a great game and show everybody what you can do — we just haven't done that this year, so those question marks are still kind of floating around."
The nine-year veteran is clearly eager to show what he is capable of.
"I love going against this type of defence," said Pierce on facing the Argonauts. "For the challenges that they pose, and I think we've got a good plan going in this week, so I'm excited about it."
"I've always kind of related (Toronto defensive coordinator) Chris Jones as a guy that wants to go out there and brawl," added Pierce. "My mentality coming into this game is it's going to be a fight. It's going to be a fight and I'm ready for 12 rounds of it."