Those who subscribe to the theory of the glass being half full will say the Winnipeg Blue Bombers still have a chance at overtaking the Calgary Stampeders for first place in the CFL’s West Division.
The glass half-empty crowd would point out the Bombers could just as easily slip to third or even fourth place in the division before the season ends.
Winnipeg middle linebacker Sam Hurl doesn’t really care about the level of the glass. He believes the Bombers should take care of their own business before thinking too much about what the other teams are doing.
“Obviously that’s what every team wants to do, get first place,” said the Calgary native, who is playing in his sixth CFL season. “I think we are in a position where if all the stars align we can make that happen.
“Ultimately, we are not too concerned about catching Calgary. We are more concerned about winning each week.”
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Hurl makes a tackle on Roughriders receiver Bakari Grant (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)
The Bombers (8-3) enter this week second in the West, five points behind the Stampeders (10-1-1). Edmonton (7-5) is just two points back of the Bombers, while Saskatchewan (6-5) and BC (6-6) remain within striking distance.
Hurl knows the CFL season has more twists and turns than a Stephen King novel. And like any horror book, sometimes the endings can be pretty gruesome.
Who guessed the Eskimos would lose five straight games after winning their first seven? After a slow start the Riders have won four of their last five games to put themselves in the playoff picture.
“The way things are in this league you never know what you are going to get each week,” said Hurl. “As a team we more believe on focusing each week. That hasn’t necessarily been a conversation of ours that we have to catch Calgary.
“We want to be as successful a team as possible and that means winning every single game. If that takes us to being a better sport than Calgary and having first place, then that’s great.”
Staying focused is one of the reasons Hurl and the Bombers aren’t looking past Friday’s game against the Ottawa REDBLACKS at Investors Group Field.
The defending Grey Cup Champions lead the East with a 5-7-1 record but are 1-4-1 against teams from the West. Interestingly, their tie was against Calgary in Week 1 and the Bombers needed a field goal on the last play of the game to defeat Ottawa 33-30 in Week 7.
“Every team is a professional team, everybody gets paid,” said Hurl. “Nobody here is a Joe Blow.
“The way their team works, they have a good system. They can plug guys in and they can make things work.”
Ottawa’s starting quarterback Trevor Harris is sidelined with a shoulder injury and backup Drew Tate is unlikely to start after being hurt in last week’s win over Montreal. That means first-year quarterback Ryan Lindley will likely start against the Bombers.
Hurl said the Bombers won’t be overconfident because Ottawa is using their third-string quarterback.
“I have been loving it and trying to make the most of it. It allows you to be more in a leadership role and allows you to do more things.”
Hurl on getting his starting role back
“I trust our third-string quarterback on my team,” he said. “I’m sure they feel the same way. We’re going into this game expecting them to be playing Ottawa REDBLACKS football.
“He still has a lot of weapons to throw to. They have a big O-line and they have a good running back. We aren’t too concerned who the quarterback is going to be. We know they are going to be come out there looking for a win because they need wins as bad as we do.”
Lindley, a San Diego State product, has mostly been used in short-yardage situations this year. He completed seven of 14 passes for 76 yards and an interception after being pressed into service against Montreal.
Defences spent a lot of time in the film room studying quarterbacks and their tendencies. Hurl admits Lindley is a bit of a mystery.
“It can be a little bit challenging,” he said. “He’s going to be a good player. He’s up here because of that reason.
“Ultimately, as long as we’re being where we need to be on the field as a defence, and we’re making sure we are fundamentally sound in every way possible . . . I don’t think we have to worry too much. As we play against him and get to know who he is, that will be good enough.”
Hurl experienced a difficult season last year. A series of injuries resulted in him playing just 12 games and registering a total of 15 tackles. He also lost his starting job to Khalil Bass.
This year a healthy Hurl is third on the Bombers with 49 tackles, has one sack, four quarterback pressures and an interception. The University of Calgary product, who was the 2012 Canada West defensive player of the year, is thrilled to have his starting role back.
“I have been loving it and trying to make the most of it,” he said. “It allows you to be more in a leadership role and allows you to do more things.
“I’m not satisfied. I think there are still a lot of small things I can do better. The more I play, the more I can clean up my game and the better I can get as a football player.
Ironically, Bass signed with the REDBLACKS as a free agent in the off-season but was released by Ottawa last week.
The Bombers won the East Division with a 10-8 record in 2011 and went on to play in the Grey Cup, which they lost to BC.
Winnipeg hasn’t hosted a playoff game in the West since finishing second in 2003 with a 11-7 record. They lost the Western Semi-Final 37-21 to Saskatchewan.
“As long as we are winning, then we’re going to have good things come of it,” said Hurl. “That’s why I think we have been successful this year. We really are just worried about each week and we aren’t trying to look ahead of it.”