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This article was published 16/11/2018 (1288 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s probably one of the most underappreciated traits of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers — their ability to avoid penalties.
The evidence is pretty clear. Winnipeg finished the 2018 CFL season as the best in the category, flagged for only 107 penalties in 18 regular-season games for an average of 5.9 per game. It was the continuation of a trend since the Blue Bombers also finished No. 1 in 2017, dinged for 108 infractions for an average of 6.0 per game.
In 2016, Mike O’Shea’s third season as the club’s head coach, the Blue Bombers finished sixth in the league at 9.2 per game. In 2015, they were third at 11.2.
"Football is a very violent sport, and we have a bunch of violent men in this locker room, and we go out every single game day to impose our will on people. Sometimes those things happen..." — Linebacker Adam Bighill
"I want them to play within the rules and I want them to be tough and physical," O’Shea said Friday. "But we’re the least-penalized team in the league for a reason — we worked damn hard at it."
How did O’Shea account for three of his players — Jackson Jeffcoat, Pat Neufeld and Sukh Chungh — being fined for illegal hits in Sunday’s 23-18 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West Division semifinal?
"If there’s going to be penalties involved, we’ve gotta be smarter with it," O’Shea said. "Obviously, the league will be sending around memos and video footage and the next officiating crew will have eyes to that, making sure guys are doing the right things, making the right decisions."
Linebacker Adam Bighill said the supplementary discipline served up by the league was nothing to be too alarmed about.
"It’s not like you can tell we’re going out to hurt people," Bighill said. "We’re just playing an extremely physical brand of football and I think, just by chance, they all showed up last game. Football is a very violent sport, and we have a bunch of violent men in this locker room, and we go out every single game day to impose our will on people. Sometimes those things happen...
"We don’t preach anything dirty around here, but we do preach physical football and that’s going to be a by-product sometimes of what happens."
On Friday, veteran slotback Weston Dressler pronounced himself ready to go despite missing a week of practice.
"Just getting old," the 33-year-old said, explaining his spectator role prior to Sunday’s West final against the Calgary Stampeders. "Yeah, I’m feeling good. I just needed a little break and hopefully a little time off will refresh the legs a little more."
O’Shea said he expects both Dressler and veteran wideout Darvin Adams to suit up Sunday in Calgary. Linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox, who missed Sunday’s West semifinal with a lower-body injury, did not practise this week and could be a game-time decision.
"They don’t need practice reps right now," O’Shea said. "Some guys do, but those guys don’t. The best thing for the team is them to be full speed, all the time."
Linebacker Kyrie Wilson toiled for most of 2018 on the practice roster, suiting up for only five regular-season games, but he made a key contribution against the Roughriders while subbing for Santos-Knox. Wilson had a sack, three defensive tackles and one special teams tackle in Regina.
"He was really good," O’Shea said. "I think that’s a credit to him, making sure he’s engaged in the meetings and locked in at practice and making the most of whatever reps he was getting."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.