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Hall, Clement go to school

Blue QB hopefuls begin tricky task of learning Canadian game

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They looked like quarterbacks — quick, lean and compact.

They threw like quarterbacks — underneath, over the top and, more often than not, on target.

And they talked like quarterbacks — quietly confident, quick to deflect praise and open to learning.

But can Max Hall and Chase Clement play quarterback in the CFL? No one can say for sure and the first day of Blue Bombers' mini-camp Wednesday at the Winnipeg Indoor Soccer Complex did very little to resolve what is easily the most pressing question facing the local pro football team heading into the 2013 season.

Buried within the decision this winter of the Bombers brain trust to proceed with the oft-injured Buck Pierce as their nominal starting quarterback, is an acceptance by the franchise that, sooner or later in 2013, they are almost certainly going to need someone to take some snaps when Pierce goes down.

The club will give a long hard look this spring to Justin Goltz in that role, but the team's fourth-stringer for most of the last two seasons isn't in town this week because his wife is due to give birth any day now.

So that means that this week's three-day camp — the two-hour sessions continue today and Friday — is all about giving Pierce a chance to shake some rust off his wing and, more importantly, give Clement and Hall a crash course in a Canadian game that neither man knows the first thing about.

Both rookie QBs conceded after a high-tempo workout Wednesday — apparently someone forgot to tell the defence it was supposed to be non-contact — that they've got a steep learning curve in front of them.

"I've got a lot of learning to do," said Hall. "It's just the obvious things — getting used to the receivers in motion. In the NFL or normal football, guys are stationary."

It was quickly pointed out to Hall that three-down football is "normal" football up here. Hall laughed at his unintended slight. "Right — I'm the misfit up here," he said.

But seeing as it came up, there was a legitimate question to be asked of Hall: Does a man who has started games in the NFL (with Arizona in 2010) regard what he saw Wednesday as minor league?

"Absolutely not," replied Hall. "There's some good players on this football team. Defensively, they flew around. I thought there's some guys who can break and get to the ball. And we've got some guys who can run routes and catch the ball."

Clement, who's spent the last few years toiling in the United Football League after a successful collegiate career at Rice, was asked what he thought his biggest challenge will be in adjusting to the three-down, 12-man game.

"It's tough to say — I've got to let it all sink in," said Clement.

But Clement is sure of one thing — he won't stage a reprise of his disappearing act in 2009, when he quit the Hamilton Tiger-Cats after just one day of training camp, saying at the time he'd decided the CFL wasn't for him.

"Yeah, I will be here," Clement said with a laugh. "I had a lot of fun today."

Another guy who claimed to be having fun Wednesday was Pierce, who seemed to enjoy the opportunity to finally air out his arm to an almost full complement of receivers running at full speed.

Asked how his arm felt after a practice in which he must have thrown in excess of 100 passes, Pierce laughed. "It feels good," he said. "The main thing is getting it defrosted after the winter."

Offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton, who was entrusted this off-season with rebuilding the Bombers offence from the ground up while at the same time deciding on the quarterbacks he wanted to run it, sounded like a proud father of a newborn.

"I've been working on this since the season ended." said Crowton. "I think it's a stronger (quarterback) group than last year because there's more athleticism and more accuracy in the passing game. And then we still have experience with Buck and Justin Goltz."

Crowton said he got what he ordered on Day 1, with Hall showing his strength — passing accuracy — while Clement will have to wait until the pads come on to show the biggest strength in his game — his mobility.

"It was what I hoped it would be," said Crowton. "That first day was as I thought it would be."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 25, 2013 D3


Updated on Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 6:56 AM CDT: replaces photo

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