With his team's present mostly already decided, Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Tim Burke will use his club's final pre-season game in Guelph this Thursday to take a look at some players the club hopes represent its future.
Topping that list will be non-import offensive lineman Tyson Pencer, who will get the start at left tackle against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
That is, of course, the spot presently anchored by all-star import lineman Glenn January and, barring injury, that's not likely to change in 2013.
But when the Bombers traded up prior to the 2012 draft so they could draft Pencer third overall, it was precisely because they always hoped what we see on Thursday will be the norm on this team in years to come -- Pencer and his Canadian passport anchoring the most important position on the offensive line and changing the entire ratio picture for the club.
'Taking that sixth-man (job) is definitely my big goal and that's what it's going to come down to -- this game. For sure, there's nerves... university, high school, whatever -- it's all the same thing. You want the starting spot, you get the big game, you've got to do it, you've got to go in and do the job right'
-- Tyson Pencer
"That's ultimately where we'd like to see him," Bombers head coach Tim Burke said Tuesday following his club's final full practice this week before travelling today to Guelph.
"It may not happen immediately, but I think he's definitely shown tremendous improvement in this training camp."
After a rookie season in 2012 written off due to a shoulder injury Pencer suffered in training camp, Pencer had lots to prove this year -- and appears to have done so.
While Burke made clear there's still a long learning curve in front of Pencer, he also said Tuesday the 24-year-old can win himself a full-time job this season as the club's sixth offensive lineman with a big performance in Guelph.
"If he has a really good game, he has a chance to win that position, yeah," said Burke.
Pencer said he knows what's at stake this week.
"Taking that sixth-man (job) is definitely my big goal and that's what it's going to come down to -- this game," said Pencer.
"For sure, there's nerves... university, high school, whatever -- it's all the same thing. You want the starting spot, you get the big game, you've got to do it, you've got to go in and do the job right."
The Pencer drama is one of the few that will play out in Guelph this week for a Bombers team where most of the question marks coming into training camp have already been answered.
Burke is leaving the vast majority of his veteran starters behind in Winnipeg and revealed Tuesday 27 players on the club's eventual 46-man regular season roster have already been informed they've made the team.
That figure almost certainly includes the overwhelming majority of the club's 24 projected starters on offence and defence. Even the handful of positions that were considered up for grabs barely a week ago have now mostly been settled -- Mike Renaud will be the punter; JT Gilmore has won a starting nose tackle job; Kenny Mainor has won Jason Vega's old defensive end position; and Terrell Parker will almost certainly start the season at the weak-side linebacker job vacated during the off-season by Marcellus Bowman.
"I won't say I won the job, but it's looking good for me," said Parker. "I've just learned -- I've learned to play football at this level."
Gilmore, who started five games for the Bombers last season, says he has a new goal this season.
"Everyone wants to be feared," said Gilmore. "I want offensive linemen across the league to be disappointed they have to face me week in and week out."
In a league with an abbreviated training camp and just two pre-season games, it is a bit unusual for a CFL club to have already decided so many outstanding issues before having even played the second pre-season game.
But Burke said the lesson he drew from heading into last year's regular season opener with a sick bay full of injured starters was that he'd rather save the really tough fights for his team's opponents during the regular season -- not each other during training camp.
"I don't want to end up getting a guy hurt," said Burke. "We know who a lot of our starters are going to be. And so I'm not going to put them in harm's way in a game that is meaningless, when we could be totally healthy going into the first game."