WINNIPEG — Matt Nichols only threw a few short passes at Wednesday’s practice, but Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea says the injured starting quarterback should be able to play this weekend.
"I think he’ll be healthy enough, I really do. I believe that," said O’Shea, whose team hosts the Edmonton Eskimos in Sunday’s CFL West Division semifinal.
"(Based on) just being around him on a daily basis. The amount of work he’s putting in with our trainer Al (Couture) and the progress he’s making."
Nichols left an Oct. 28 home loss to B.C. with a suspected calf injury. Backup Dan LeFevour started last week’s 23-5 Winnipeg victory in Calgary that gave the Bombers (12-6) a home playoff date for the first time since 2011.
As per team rules, Nichols was unavailable to the media because he didn’t finish practice.
The veteran QB had tossed a few passes in formation early in practice and handed off the ball a couple of times, but didn’t test his mobility. He then mostly stood around and shadowed LeFevour, who took most of the reps with the first-team offence, and Dominique Davis during their drills.
Nichols’s health has been the big topic of conversation for Bomber fans, who haven’t seen their team win the Grey Cup for 26 seasons.
O’Shea was asked if he could guarantee to fans Nichols will start against the Eskimos, but the coach pointed out you never know if someone might get injured in practice.
He was then pressed for a guarantee Nichols would start if he doesn’t get hurt more in practice this week and replied "that’s a little premature."
Nichols doesn’t have to fully practise this week to be ready to start, O’Shea said.
"At this point in the season, pretty well anybody on our roster we’d feel pretty comfortable putting him in with limited reps," he said.
He knows Nichols is doing everything he can to get healthy.
"He’s bound and determined to be playing," O’Shea said. "He’s a redhead so he’s got a high pain threshold."
Nichols led his league counterparts with a 103.8 passing efficiency rating this season after completing 411-of-579 pass attempts with a career-high 4,472 yards, 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 17 games.
But the Bombers’ offence has sputtered lately, not scoring a touchdown in three of their last four games.
With LeFevour at the helm in the victory over the Stampeders, it was the defence that scored two TDs and kicker Justin Medlock booted three field goals.
Winnipeg has only won two of its past five games, while the Mike Reilly-led Eskimos (12-6) have five straight victories. Reilly threw a league- and career-high 5,830 yards with 30 TDs and 13 picks through 18 games. He was 447-of-654 passing and his efficiency rating was 102.9.
LeFevour said it was business as usual as he prepares to possibly start Sunday, but it was nice having Nichols on the field.
"It’s great," he said. "It’s progress because last week he didn’t do much."
They’ve also been talking and he’s encouraged by Nichols’ demeanour.
"He sounds very confident going into this week so I don’t think we have anything to worry about," LeFevour said.
Does he think Nichols will be ready to start?
"I don’t know, ask coach O’Shea," he said.
Bombers receiver Clarence Denmark, the only member of the team who played in the 2011 home playoff game, was leaning toward Nichols taking the first snap Sunday.
"I think so," Denmark said. "We trust him and we don’t worry about him."