How much does Buck Pierce still want to be the starting quarterback of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers?
Well, consider this -- the Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback is from California but spent this entire winter living right here in Winnipeg during what will surely go down as one of the most merciless winters we've known in these parts.
"Man, this thing goes on and on, doesn't it?" said Pierce with a laugh Thursday.
The fact he's still laughing tells you a couple things.
First, for all the injuries that have dogged him throughout his career, Pierce is tough. Winnipeg tough.
And second, the fact he's still laughing after a winter in which he has had to sit quietly by while his employer auditioned seemingly every quarterback with a pulse in North America tells you just how committed Pierce is to proving to Winnipeggers he can regain the form he showed in 2011, a season in which he started 18 of 20 regular and post season games and led the Bombers to the Grey Cup game.
Whether Pierce will be allowed to prove that remains to be seen after an injury-plagued season in 2012. Bombers GM Joe Mack says the team still hasn't decided what -- if any -- role Pierce will have with the Bombers in 2013 and won't for a few more weeks.
Here's an edited transcript of Pierce's one-on-one interview with Free Press football writer Paul Wiecek on Thursday:
Wiecek: So, what have you been doing this winter?
Pierce: Just been training most of the time. I've been working really close with (Bombers head athletic therapist) Al (Couture) and some of the guys. I've just been getting after it, honestly. It's been good. I'm feeling pretty good.
Wiecek: Hearing you talk, you're obviously preparing to be in training camp on Day 1 and try to reclaim your old starter job.
Pierce: Oh, hell yeah. Hell yeah. After last year -- and I will be honest here -- it was a miserable season. Coming off such a building year in 2011 that was so positive and then to have a letdown like we had and so many negative things surrounding the product on the field, it leaves a terrible taste in your mouth. And that's the hard part of the off-season -- there's so much speculation (about his future). But it can also motivate a guy. My exit interviews with Tim Burke and Mr. Mack -- it was, honestly, 'I will do whatever you guys want me to do.' I've always said if you want me to come in to compete, which I think every player should do every single year... then I will do that. I want us to be competitive at every position and as deep as possible.
Wiecek: All right, a couple of things flow from that. First, you're saying you have no problem with a scenario where the team tells you that you're going to have win the starting job in camp just like anyone else?
Pierce: No problem at all. I've always felt you have to earn everything, my whole career and in everything. I feel you're only as good as your last snap... My mindset is I'm going to come in with the most experience on the roster, but I'm going to have to earn a roster spot.
Wiecek: OK. Secondly, if you don't win the starter's job in camp, would you be willing to stick around and hold a clipboard and see what happens?
Pierce: For sure. I think you know me personally well enough that I want to win here. Obviously, I believe in my heart -- and the (coaching) staff does as well -- that when Buck's out there, we're going to win some games. He's going to get us there and get us into situations to be successful. But I'm all about the team. I want this team to be successful and I want to be a part of this organization that continues to give me so much.
Wiecek: How do you reconcile having such a great year personally in 2011 -- starting all those games -- with last year, where you had injuries constantly. Were you just unlucky last year? How does that look to you?
Pierce: Honestly, I don't believe a whole lot in luck. I think there was some situations that happened and I had to battle through them. I think I was playing with some injuries -- with the (broken) foot -- that maybe hampered my play a bit down the stretch and I wasn't able to move as much. And that's not an issue anymore. And I think we grew a lot as a team throughout the course of the year... It was one of those years I guess you could say builds character. (Laughs) I think I built a lot of character.
Last year was a tough one -- more so mentally than anything else. And that's why I think this off-season was so good for me, to be able to refocus and really just worry about the things I can control -- and that's just being the best player I can be. And that's staying on the football field, changing part of my game, doing the things (offensive co-ordinator) Gary (Crowton) and (head coach) Tim (Burke) want me to do.
Wiecek: Which is what? Get rid of the ball quicker?
Pierce: Well, yeah. And I think they want to do some things to not put me in certain situations where I'm one-on-one outside the pocket. But yeah, get rid of the ball, use our strong running game, let's continue to work on putting the pressure on the defence instead of us being in tough situations where they can really get after us.
Wiecek: I talked to Joe last week and he says he's had a few conversations with you this winter. What's he telling you, Buck?
Pierce: Right now, they're looking for a direction to go. He asked my advice. He looks at me as a leader on this team and a guy who has a lot of insight. I think he's looking for depth... to bring in guys that can compete and push.
Wiecek: I've been writing these stories the last few weeks about all these quarterbacks the team is working out. How does it make you feel when you hear about all these other guys they're auditioning for your job?
Pierce: This is professional football. Nobody's guaranteed anything. It doesn't matter who you are. I want them to bring in the best possible guys in the world who want to come in and compete. It's a revolving door. wThere's 40 professional starting quarterbacks in the world (CFL and NFL) and there's going to be competition...
Wiecek: They speak so highly of you in the front office and I know one of the things they're wrestling with is how they could keep you in the organization in some capacity if they decide your future isn't on the field. Would you consider hanging them up and taking a coaching job with the Bombers?
Pierce: I have a football mind and I love this game and I care so much about this organization, I'd definitely look at that. But you only get to play once and I feel I can win ball games, in whatever aspect that is. I feel I can take this team to the Grey Cup and win it. I feel we have the pieces if we put it altogether to go do that, with me behind centre. But I also feel that if they feel I'm at a point in my career that they want me to mentor somebody they feel good about and continue to build, I'm open to that too.