LIVESTREAM PPV: CFL Season opener – Edmonton Eskimos @Winnipeg Blue Bombers, June 14, 7:30p (8:30p EST, 2:30a CEST June 15)

WINNIPEG — As the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Edmonton Eskimos prepare to kick off the 2018 CFL season on Thursday night at Investors Group Field, it is fair to say both have lingering demons from 2017 that require exorcism.

CFL.ca has unprecedented coverage of the first game of the season on Thursday Night Football presented by the Brick, including a 30-minute live show CFL Game Time at 7:30 p.m. ET on-site.

For the Bombers, who fell on home turf in last season’s Western Semi-Final after posting their most regular-season wins (12) since 2002, Thursday’s opener represents a chance to best the Edmonton team that sent them packing last November.

On the Eskimo side of the football, Week 1 represents opportunity No. 1 for Jason Maas and co. to begin the process of putting last year’s bizarre 32-28 defeat in the Western Final behind them.

Most of all, however, everybody affiliated with both clubs is excited to finally start playing for keeps.

“We’re very excited,” Edmonton receiver Kenny Stafford told Esks.com. “We’re tired of hitting green and gold. We’ve been going against each other for the past three weeks, so we’re excited to see a new opponent. You never know until it’s live.”

Though the weather in Winnipeg is slated to be in the high-20s and sunny for Thursday’s season opener, Edmonton spent the week practising in ugly conditions — something Stafford believes will help them.

“With the elements, the wind, the rain…to be able to come out and still complete balls, (and) have the offence running at a high level, shows we’re all on the same page as an offence,” said Stafford. “That prepares you for the future, (and) anything that prepares you for the future, I’m all for.”

Speaking of futures, running back C.J. Gable is a player many in Eskimos camp believe could be on the verge of a special season in 2018.

“I think the bar will be high for C.J. this year,” said Edmonton head coach Jason Maas of Gable, a two-time CFL East All-Star (2013, 2016). He’s a powerful back, (and) does a lot of great things for us. As powerful as he is, he (also) has good feet to make people miss in holes…if we play with him for 18 games, he’s going to have an outstanding year.”

One of the keys for Thursday night’s visitors will be shutting down dynamic Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris — no easy feat.

“We’re going to have to shut down the run pretty early,” explained defensive tackle Mike Moore. “We’ve got to make sure everyone’s doing their jobs, being in their gaps and where they need to be.”

Clean, disciplined play — never a given in Week 1 — will be key for the Edmonton offence in its season opener.

“Their defence was good last year, (and) they added some great pieces to it,” explained Maas. “They get after the quarterback, they do a lot of different things up front to confuse and offensive line, and they’re great physically. You make any type of mistake against them, they make you pay.”

Edmonton defensive back Aaron Grymes will miss Thursday’s season opener after being placed on the team’s suspended list earlier in the week, leaving the Esks potentially thin at defensive back.

Receiver Bryant Mitchell will also miss Thursday’s contest, opening the door for sophomore receiver D’haquille Williams to receive plenty of targets.

On the O-line, Tommie Draheim will make his debut at left tackle as the Eskimos try to replace key off-season departure Joel Figueroa.

In Winnipeg, the story of the pre-season and into Week 1 has been the situation under centre.

What began as a question of who would fill in the depth chart behind penciled-in starter Matt Nicholssuddenly became a question of the QB-1 variety when Nichols went down with a knee injury late in the pre-season.

Enter Chris Streveler, a 23-year-old true professional rookie and the Blue Bombers’ new opening day starter.

“It was never something I thought about,” Streveler told BlueBombers.com in the lead-up to his first professional start. “It’s just been about me trying to get better every day, trying to pick up the game as quick as possible and help the team.”

Veteran Winnipeg offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice insists the game plan will not change with the rookie under centre.

“The message to Chris is no different all week than (what) Matt Nichols gets,” said LaPolice, whose Bomber offence led the CFL in points (554) and rushing yards (1,824) last season. “We make good decisions with the football, (and) when there’s opportunities downfield we take them. Operate our offence.”

LaPolice insists the absence or addition of one piece in Winnipeg’s offence does not change the responsibilities of others in the unit.

“He doesn’t have to play above himself,” stressed the 48-year-old LaPolice. “Our players don’t have to play more because there’s a guy that doesn’t have a lot of starts under his belt (at quarterback).”

On the defensive side of the football, the Bombers are chock full of playmakers.

Winnipeg added two all-stars in linebacker Adam Bighill — most recently of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints — and cornerback Chris Randle, along with the formerly orange-and-black trio of Anthony Gaitor (halfback), Chandler Fenner (linebacker) and Craig Roh (defensive end).

“The first day I put on the blue…I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t weird,” laughed Bighill, who will start alongside Fenner in the heart of the Winnipeg defence come Thursday. “It’s obviously grown on me. I love it, I love being here and I love the people I’m around.”

The Bombers will be without Kienan LaFrance and Timothy Flanders on offence along with Maurice Leggett on defence, as the latter continues to work his way back from the Achilles injury that ended his 2017 season last fall.

Crunchin’ Numbers

1 — Thursday’s season opener will mark the earliest regular-season game in CFL history by a single day. The previous one? June 15, 2004, when Toronto defeated Saskatchewan 21-10.

7 — Wins in 10 tries against Winnipeg for Eskimos pivot Mike Reilly.

39 — Total number of days Bombers quarterback Chris Streveler has been a pro. (per BlueBombers.com)

90 — Receiving yards needed by Winnipeg’s Darvin Adams to eclipse the 3,000-yard career mark.

Bombers. Eskimos.

Two teams looking to start 2018 on the right foot and take charge in what is shaping up to be a wide-open West Division.

The tackles and jump-balls are for real, now. Buckle up for a fun one at IGF.

Kickoff is at 8:30 p.m. ET and can be seen on TSN, RDS and ESPN+.

– With files from Esks.com/BlueBombers.com

AFI, Yare Media and the CFL

American Football International is collaborating with Yare Media and the Canadian Football League to present 2017 CFL games live. This is more than a livestream. This is a stream of the top flight TSN network television broadcast.

LIVE STREAM: CFL Season opener – Edmonton Eskimos @Winnipeg Blue Bombers, June 14, 7:30p (8:30p EST, 2:30a CEST June 15)

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