By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – Maurice Leggett is known for being a good communicator.
The big smile he sported after Wednesday’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers practice clearly showed he’s happy to be back in the lineup for Thursday’s home-opener against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The team’s defensive player of the year last season missed last week’s season-opening 30-26 win over Saskatchewan and Winnipeg’s exhibition loss against Hamilton because of an undisclosed injury.
“I’m excited, I know that,” Leggett said with a chuckle. “It’s been a long time coming, just sitting here watching my teammates go through battle without me. I just wanted to be back helping the defence excel.”
His teammates are equally glad he’s back.
“I think we’ve been getting better each game, but with him coming back it’ll just add another level to our intensity and us paying attention to it and communicating well,” linebacker Chris Randle said.
Winnipeg lost its exhibition game at home 26-15 to the Ticats, with quarterback Zach Collaros guiding Hamilton’s offence to a 20-7 lead before head coach Kent Austin pulled him with about six minutes left in the first half.
But Collaros and the offence didn’t have the most productive outing in a 24-23 loss to Calgary last week. The Ticats only scored touchdowns from a punt return and interception, while Stampeders kicker Rene Paredes booted a 50-yard field goal as time expired for the win.
“Call it motivation, call it whatever you want to call it, but you want to score touchdowns every week,” said Collaros, who was 27-of-38 for 281 yards against the Stamps.
The team had good practices while staying in Calgary before flying to Winnipeg so he’s excited to regroup against the Bombers, he said.
Austin ticked off 15 penalties on offence, some that stopped drives, as one of the reasons they lost to Calgary.
“Had a couple of errors that we put in the disaster category,” Austin said. “With a snap over our punter’s head and the pick down in scoring territory.”
But there were chances to win the game and he takes that silver lining into the match against Winnipeg.
“We’re going to have to play well and mistake-free to have an opportunity to beat them,” Austin said.
The Bombers are coming off their first win in Regina in 11 years, yet head coach Mike O’Shea also used the words “mistake-free” in describing how his defence will have to play against Hamilton and didn’t versus the Riders.
Saskatchewan rushed for 212 yards against Winnipeg, but Hamilton is expected to key on its passing game rather than rookie running back Ray Holley.
That might be good news, but Leggett said Collaros can be lethal.
“He’ll lull you to sleep with the quick plays and then actually make the big plays by extending them,” Leggett said.
Unlike Collaros, Bombers quarterback Drew Willy is coming off the game in Regina with a hot hand.
He completed 22-of-25 pass attempts for 325 yards and three TDs, an 88 per cent completion rate that set a new Bombers’ single-game record.
“Sometimes you get hot out there and it doesn’t really matter what the defence does, it’s just as an offence everyone is playing to their highest level,” Willy said.
Continuing where they left off would be nice against Hamilton, but he knows its defence is tough.
“They’re a good bunch. There’s a reason they’ve been to two straight Grey Cups,” Willy said.