On the heels of their upset victory in Montreal last week, Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Tim Burke admits his team will have to play even better in Week 17 if they hope to string together consecutive wins for the first time since August 2011.
But the truth is, with eight players on the one-game injured list and another 11 on the nine-game — including nearly a dozen starters — the 3-12 Blue and Gold are more so concentrating on roster development as they re-build for 2014.
One of the young players that has taken full advantage of his new starting role is running back Will Ford, who has shown marked improvement game to game since being plugged into the starting role for the injured Chad Simpson.
"As a true player you never want to sit on the sidelines, so when you do get that chance you've got to make the best of it. 120 per cent each and every snap," said Ford, who has also snagged special teams Player of the Week honours from the league for his kick and punt return success this year.
"Sometimes it takes a little while for them to find their running style in the CFL, and I think that is what Will has found," said Burke, of his tailback. "He's found how he wants to run the ball in the CFL, and he's made a good case for himself, that's for sure."
"I'm just taking advantage and making the most of my opportunities when my name is called," added Ford. "And times when my name isn't called, protecting the quarterback and just trying to do everything right."
The early knock on Ford was his pass blocking following a couple games where the weakness began to be exploited. It eventually kept him out of second down situations after a training camp that saw him come in specifically on passing downs to take advantage of the speedster's escapability in space.
But since his first career start in early September, the 26-year-old has turned the corner. Burke says Ford "did a great job blocking" in Montreal where the back was often man-on-man with tenacious veteran linebacker Kyries Hebert.
Another young player who has impressed Burke is linebacker Ian Wild, who has all but cemented himself into the Blue Bombers' plans for next season.
"He's a real good player," said the head coach of his 6-foot 208-pound rookie. "He's made a lot of plays. He's versatile, anywhere from long-snapping to ending up in the post playing free safety. He's durable. He's smart. And he's got a lot of football sense."
"He doesn't look all that big, but when he's out on the field he has a lot of power. He can get off of an offensive lineman trying to block him and he can deliver a blow to him too, so we're pretty happy we have Ian."
"I would think he'd be around for a long time. He's very young." added Burke of Wild who only turns 24 this winter. "He's right out of college, so he should have a long-term future."
Notes: Jovon Johnson made a marvelous recovery this week from an ankle injury and will again start at safety. His prognosis went from out, to doubtful, to ready-to-go in a matter of days. The soon to be 30-year-old hasn't missed a CFL start since his rookie year in 2008 where he was held out of a single game... Former NFL-standout Mike Sims-Walker makes his first CFL start on Saturday for injured wide receiver Aaron Kelly... Recent newcomers Michael McAdoo and J.D. Griggs will back-up on the defensive line and look to impress the Bombers brass enough to earn a spot in training camp come next spring.