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BOMBSHELLS Eli fits right in with physical hogs ... playoff spot not top of mind for O'Shea

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To get a sense of the attitude offensive lineman Tui Eli brings to the Blue Bombers, you only need to hear a snippet from inside the huddle at the end of last week’s win over Edmonton.

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The Winnipeg offence got the ball one last time with 24 seconds to go, leading 30-3.

“We were taking a knee,” fellow lineman Pat Neufeld said. “He’s like, ‘No, screw that. Let’s run the football.’ That’s just his mentality. He’s an aggressive guy, and he’s done all he could to earn the position he’s in right now.”

A 6-foot-4, 307-pound, 2109 draft pick out of the University of Hawaii, Eli will try to help fill the sizable hole left by the loss of tackle Jermarcus Hardrick

Hardrick suffered a hip injury last week and is expected to miss the rematch in Alberta, Friday.

Exactly who plays where isn’t confirmed, yet.

But Eli’s desire to get better since his first camp in 2019 has been.

“We noticed it right away in training camp,” Neufeld said. “He came in in great shape and he came in with a vocal confidence you need to have as a centre. Then he’s just a physical, physical dude.”

O-line coach Marty Costello says the 25-year-old is a different player than the one who rushed into his first camp a little unprepared.

“His whole body type has changed,” Costello said. “He really took advantage of the 2020 year and dedicated himself … he’s grown tremendously since he’s been here.”

Having depth – Geoff Gray is also in reserve – and linemen like Neufeld and centre Michael Couture, who can play multiple positions, is a luxury Costello doesn’t take for granted.

“Some days I feel like I’m probably the luckiest coach in the CFL, quite honestly,” he said. “And it does help me sleep a little bit better at night.”

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Playoffs? You’re talking playoffs?

The obvious carrot is dangling right in front of the 8-1 Bombers: they can clinch a fifth straight playoff spot with a win in Edmonton.

Apparently, that won’t be part of head coach Mike O’Shea’s pre-game speech.

“It has not come up once, nor will it,” O’Shea said. “They are still pretty focused and it is still pretty early in the season. They understand what they need to look at, what’s important. And that’s not one of those things.”

While making the playoffs is Step 1 in their ultimate goal, it seems the Bombers will avoid anything that might feel like a premature accomplishment.

“If you’re driven,” O’Shea said. “Then the results take care of themselves.”

Not so smashing

For one of the few times in recent memory, the Bombers turned the ball over on short-yardage last week when they were stuffed on third-and-goal at the Elks’ one-yard line.

The O-line and their coach take a play like that personally.

“You’re only as good as your last couple of plays in this league and in professional football,” Costello said. “We are definitely making a point of emphasis this week and go back to try to do what we do best and smash into people.”

pfriesen@postmedia.com
Twitter: @friesensunmedia

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