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O'Shea noncommittal on Grey Cup status of Schoen, Bighill


HAMILTON — Winnipeg head coach Mike O'Shea won't discount receiver Dalton Schoen or linebacker Adam Bighill playing for the Blue Bombers in Sunday's Grey Cup game.

Schoen, a sophomore receiver, has missed Winnipeg's last three games with an ankle injury. Bighill played in the Bombers' 24-13 West Division final win over the B.C. Lions on Saturday but left IG Stadium on crutches. And when the Bombers made the trip to southern Ontario on Monday, Bighill wore a walking boot on his right leg.

But on Tuesday at the Grey Cup coaches news conference, O'Shea didn't close the door on either suiting up when the Bombers square off against the Montreal Alouettes at Tim Hortons Field.

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"Dalton Schoen is continuing to rehab and work every single day and Biggie is starting that process'" O'Shea told reporters. "If you're in our room on a daily basis I say the same thing every day, I'll never rule a guy out, you've just got to give him hope.

"Why would I dash that? Two pros, obviously. They attack every single day the same. Whether it leads to them playing or not, we'll see."

Schoen, the CFL's top rookie in 2022, was Winnipeg's leading receiver this season. The 27-year-ld American had 71 catches for 1,222 yards and a league-high 10 touchdown catches in 16 regular-season games.

Bighill, three times the CFL's top defensive player, played in Saturday's contest, registering a tackle. But he reportedly sustained a leg injury in the first while chasing Lions quarterback Vernon Adams Jr.

Bighill, 35, has helped Winnipeg reach the Grey Cup the last four consecutive years. The Bombers are chasing a third CFL title over that span.

The five-foot-10, 223-pound Bighill had a team-high 74 defensive tackles this season. The Bombers' defensive captain also added four sacks, three tackles for a loss and a fumble recovery.

Winnipeg's defence led the CFL in fewest points allowed (18.2 per game), offensive TDs (27), net yards (298.8), passing yards (229.4) and were third against the run (90.4 per game).

O'Shea said if Bighill, a three-time Grey Cup champion, can't play, Winnipeg's linebacking corps has enough depth to ensure the defence doesn't skip a beat Sunday against Montreal.

Against B.C., American Brian Cole — listed behind Bighill on Winnipeg's depth chart — had three tackles and a sack while Canadian Shayne Gauthier added a tackle. The Bombers' linebacking corps also includes Canadian Tanner Cadwallader, an impressive special-teams contributor for the squad.

"They're a tight group they spend a lot of time studying together," O'Shea said. "(Linebackers coach) James Stanley does a great job with them, they're all prepared.

"Everybody there in that core can step in and once again contribute to winning."

Winnipeg's offence remains a potent unit even without Schoen.

Quarterback Zach Collaros, the CFL's outstanding player in 2021 and 2022, was second overall in passing this year (4,253 yards) and tops in TDs (33). And running back Brady Oliveira, the West Division's top player nominee this year, led the league in rushing with 1,534 yards.

Oliveira also added 38 catches for 482 yards and four touchdowns.

Winnipeg's receiving corps also includes Kenny Lawler, who had 50 catches for 901 yards and six TDs this season. The six-foot-two, 199-pound Lawler helped the Bombers win Grey Cups in 2019 and '21 and returned to Manitoba after spending the '22 campaign with Edmonton.

Over Winnipeg's last four games, Lawler has 24 catches for 335 yards. On Tuesday's O'Shea lauded Lawler's ability to get into the right position on the field to make a reception.

"He's quite talented, very gifted," O'Shea said. "His hands are really sticky, there's not many footballs he can't get to and catch.

"Some receivers every catch looks spectacular because they're not getting into the right position to begin with. Kenny gets into the right position a lot."

On Monday, Montreal head coach Jason Maas told reporters the Bombers aren't a two-man team.

"They’ve got depth on their team, they’ve got a great culture," he said. "They know what they’re doing, they have a great system in all three phases, and I know they have a lot of buy-in by their players.

"Whoever is available will give us their best shot, and that’s what we’re going to do as well."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 14, 2023.