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Quarterback Drew Willy to start for Blue Bombers against Tiger-Cats

09/26/2014 02:35 EDT | Updated 11/26/2014 05:59 EST
WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Blue Bombers' bye week came at a perfect time for quarterback Drew Willy.

Willy sprained his throwing shoulder in a Sept. 13 loss to the B.C. Lions but said Friday that extra treatment and rest last week has helped him recover enough to start Saturday when Winnipeg hosts the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

"I was here all bye week working with (head athletic therapist Al Couture), kind of doing a bunch of different treatments, just basically doing anything I could do to get the range of motion, strength back," Willy said after the team's walk-through. "I feel fine. I'm ready to play and I'm looking forward to going out there."

That's good news for the Bombers (6-6), who've lost three straight and five-of-their-last six games.

Hamilton (4-7) has won its last two games and three of its last four, all since the return of quarterback Zach Collaros, who missed five contests with concussion-like symptoms.

Winnipeg head coach Mike O'Shea said his offence won't have to alter its plans because Willy is coming off an injury.

"If we had to change the gameplan because of his health, he wouldn't be starting," O'Shea said.

Neither O'Shea nor Willy are concerned that playing could aggravate the injury.

"I believe he's as healthy as anybody else," O'Shea said. "I think there's inherent risk in the game of football, but we wouldn't take any undue risk with our quarterback."

Willy, who will be backed up by Brian Brohm, agreed.

"If I didn't feel comfortable, I wouldn't go out there and play," he said. "I wouldn't put this team in that situation.

"I feel comfortable with the progress we've made and the way I feel so I'm definitely going to go out there and compete for the guys that work so hard in that lockerroom."

Hamilton coach/GM Kent Austin always figured Willy would start.

"He wouldn't be practising if he wasn't going to play," Austin said.

Hamilton enters weekend action tied with Toronto and Montreal (both 4-8) for first in the East Division. The Alouettes visit the Ottawa Redblacks on Friday night.

Despite starting the season 5-1, the Bombers are last in the West Division. Winnipeg is also 1-5 against West Division clubs, compared to being 5-1 versus East Division rivals, making Saturday's contest appear to be a good opportunity to get back on track.

Having Willy in the lineup improves those chances and Winnipeg's offensive line will try to keep a Hamilton defensive front that's recorded 10 sacks in its last two games off the Bombers' starter.

Left tackle Glenn January said that's always the goal.

"I don't think there's any added pressure this week," January said. "I've said it before, if there's an extra gear, you should be using it already."

Hamilton defensive end Eric Norwood had four sacks in last weekend's 25-23 home win over Edmonton. And the Ticats look to bolster their pass rush with the addition of end Justin Hickman to the lineup.

Hickman had a 13 sacks — tied for the league lead with Odell Willis, now with the Edmonton Eskimos — with Hamilton in 2011 when he was a league all-star. Hickman then spent the next two years with the NFL's Indianapolis Colts although he missed the 2013 campaign with a foot injury.

"I can remember back to the battles I used to have with Hickman, some of the tougher ones of my career," January said. "It will be a challenge for us because they're a talented group and they've got a very complete defensive scheme."

Hickman said he always aims to take down the quarterback and Willy's injury doesn't add to his motivation.

"My eagerness to get after the quarterback is unfazed by his health," Hickman said.

Hickman's enthusiasm actually has more to do with finally being on the field after his injury.

"I'm ready to hit somebody," Hickman said with a laugh.

Hickman admitted he didn't know the extent of Willy's injury, adding he and his teammates hadn't discussed it as they were concentrating on game planning.

Collaros showed fine form against Edmonton, completing 25-of-35 passes for 318 yards and a TD while running for another to be named the CFL's offensive player of the week.

"We haven't talked about it much, but maybe we're starting to turn a corner here," Collaros said. "We're playing good football and we need to continue that."

Hamilton will be minus talented running back C.J. Gable (shoulder), who was hurt against Edmonton and went on the six-game injured list. He'll be replaced by Mossis Madu.

Offensive lineman Jake Olson is also off Hamilton's roster and Jeremy Lewis will take his spot.

Winnipeg will make two changes to its starting lineup. Defensive back Johnny Sears replaces Bruce Johnson while Devin Tyler joins the offensive line at right tackle in place of Cordaro Howard.

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