Fantuz, the CFL's top Canadian and leading receiver last year, will make his season debut Sunday with Saskatchewan after being cut by the Chicago Bears. Upon his release, Fantuz had 10 days to sign with another NFL club, but the veteran slotback cut that short to return to the Riders.
"Their whole offence is pretty good so we're more concerned about that than one guy coming back," Bombers halfback Alex Suber said Saturday. "There's the simple fact that he's coming back and everyone else is making a big deal about it, but other than that we're just going to play football and do what we do."
The Bombers (7-2) will look to rebound from their worst loss of the season, a 27-7 road decision to the Riders (2-7) last week.
Saskatchewan went into that game buoyed by the return of Ken Miller to the sidelines after rookie head coach Greg Marshall and offensive co-ordinator Doug Berry were fired Aug. 19.
The return of Fantuz will undoubtedly boost the Riders, who hope the native of Chatham, Ont., can regain the form that saw him register 87 catches for 1,380 yards last season, his fifth in the CFL.
Fantuz said he’s feeling comfortable with the offence after only three days of practice but wouldn't predict how he’ll perform.
“I’m just going to do whatever I have to do to help the team win,” he said after the Riders' arrival. “It’s not about individual players on our team.
"We’re not changing up the offence too much, we’re just going to go out there and do what we do and spread the ball around. I’m just a piece of that puzzle.”
Winnipeg defensive back Jonathan Hefney said the secondary won't be making changes to adapt to Fantuz's presence.
"We've got DBs who can check anybody on the field," Hefney said. "Not just one person is going to make us change the game plan.
"It is what it is, he's back, OK good, we're just going to go out and play now."
Saskatchewan quarterback Darian Durant said he and Fantuz are getting back in sync.
“I’ve been working with him for years prior to him giving the NFL a shot so I feel like the chemistry is still there,” Durant said. “We made a couple big plays in practice so it’s all about translating that over into game day.”
He did foresee Fantuz being a force right away.
“I think he can have a huge impact,” Durant said. “He’s always been a big part of what we do and we’re putting him right back in the same spot that he vacated so I think his presence is going to be felt out there.”
Winnipeg had just two field goals and a punt single in last week's loss to Saskatchewan, which snapped a five-game winning streak. The Riders forced four straight Bombers turnovers to end the game.
Linebacker Jerrell Freeman had a role in two of the turnovers, forcing a fumble and intercepting Bomber quarterback Alex Brink for a nine-yard return.
Freeman also registered seven tackles and a sack and was named the CFL's defensive player of the week as a result.
“There’s still a lot of mistakes that I made, things I can correct, a lot of things that the defence as a whole can correct,” Freeman said.
Freeman expects a hostile, loud crowd will try to hamper that.
“It’s going to be a lot of energy, a lot of testiness, I guess you could say,” said Freeman, who felt the Bombers’ frustration in the last game.
Winnipeg receiver Cory Watson and defensive back Brandon Stewart were ejected from the game for throwing punches, while receiver Greg Carr was penalized for unnecessary roughness for a tackle on Freeman.
The CFL later fined the trio, saying Carr’s tackle was dangerous. He threw Freeman to the ground headfirst.
The Bombers hope the script for Sunday’s game follows last year’s Banjo Bowl rematch, which they won 31-2.
"I really want the guys to come back focused and respond, and that's been the message all week — let's respond," Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice said.
LaPolice added he wasn't keying on Fantuz's addition to the Rider roster.
"We try to work our schemes around the personnel and take away people's strengths," he said. "Andy is a talented receiver, but we're more concerned about us executing defensively what we have called."
The Bombers' defence should be bolstered by the return of hard-hitting linebacker Marcellus Bowman, who missed two games with a foot injury.
NOTES: More than 30,000 fans will fill Canad Inns Stadium, which has kept extra stands up for what will be the fourth straight sellout.Suggest a correction