Blue brace for noise

Winnipeg Free Press - - SPORTS - MIKE SAWATZKY mike.sawatzky@freep­ress.mb.ca Twit­ter: @sawa14

N Sun­day, the Win­nipeg Blue Bombers will be forced to en­dure the season’s most hos­tile road con­di­tions when they in­vade Mo­saic Sta­dium in Regina for the an­nual Labour Day Week­end Clas­sic against the Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers.

It’s not an or­di­nary game and the Bombers have been pre­par­ing for the worst. For ex­tended stretches of Wed­nes­day’s prac­tice at In­vestors Group Field, head coach Mike O’Shea sub­jected his squad to a steady diet of ear­split­ting crowd noise piped in through the sta­dium’s sound sys­tem.

The sights and sounds of Mo­saic might ac­tu­ally be some sort of re­lief from this racket.

“This is way more an­noy­ing be­cause there’s not enough emo­tion into it,” said Win­nipeg run­ning back An­drew Har­ris. “When their crowd’s go­ing crazy, you can kinda feel that en­ergy and it’s more real, you know they’re com­ing to try to tear your heads off. So this is def­i­nitely more an­noy­ing.”

Wed­nes­day’s sim­i­lated crowd noise is the same stuff O’Shea used to pre­pared his squad for a Week 2 game in Regina, won 43-40 in over­time by the Blue Bombers.

Har­ris would be happy to start quickly in or­der to keep the Roughrid­ers faith­ful sit­ting qui­etly in their seats.

“When you can si­lence a crowd like that it’s great to do,” said Har­ris. “It’s tough to do for 60 min­utes, so you’ve gotta be pre­pared for ev­ery­thing they throw at you.”

Be­ing able to call plays, often with the quar­ter­back em­ploy­ing a silent snap count, can be the most ef­fec­tive way to deal with the noise but Win­nipeg of­fen­sive co-or­di­na­tor Paul LaPo­lice said that ap­proach has its lim­i­ta­tions.

“I think some­times... if you face a team that’s play­ing a lot of man cov­er­age and they’re go­ing to press up and you want to run by them,” said LaPo­lice. “And guys tend not to at­tack the line of scrim­mage when they don’t know the cadence and we go on a silent cadence. And cer­tainly, over­all com­mu­ni­ca­tion is a little bit harder. But it’s some­thing we’ve prac­tised be­fore and cer­tainly, last game, we needed it at times and at times we didn’t.”

Fa­mil­iar­ity with the rou­tine and hav­ing a quar­ter­back who is a cool un­der those con­di­tions is cru­cial.

“It’s all part of be­ing able to op­er­ate un­der ad­verse sit­u­a­tions,” said quar­ter­backs coach Buck Pierce. “More of it’s just a men­tal thing, be­ing able to op­er­ate with chaos and that kind of stuff around. You prac­tise silent (count) and you prac­tise for the noise, and see how you op­er­ate with all your mul­ti­ple ca­dences, right? It’s just pre­par­ing us for the en­vi­ron­ment there. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, I think we pre­pare the guys well by prac­tis­ing this way. Things aren’t as easy to com­mu­ni­cate coach­ing points, but it al­lows play­ers to fix things on their own and even over com­mu­ni­cate, which we preach all the time.”

Quar­ter­back Matt Nichols be­lieves it’s the sort of game that’s easy to get ex­cited about. Will it be louder than Win­nipeg’s season opener on July 1?

“I think it will be,” said Nichols. “I’ve been around long enough, I’ve played in this game. I know what kind of at­mos­phere it is. These are the ones that you get up for. If you don’t, there’s some­thing wrong with you. We know it’s go­ing to be a tough game. They’re a good op­po­nent, tough en­vi­ron­ment.”

The game is al­ways a high­light for vet­eran line­backer Mo Leggett.

“It’s a very unique at­mos­phere,” said Leggett. “They get wilder when we come into town. You hear a lot of chirp­ing with the fans, more than the play­ers. It comes with the game and it’s a lot of fun.”

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