If the primary objective of the 2013 version of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers offence is to keep the quarterback upright, then there's some reason for optimism out of an otherwise very forgettable pre-season.
The Bombers gave up a total of five sacks -- three to Toronto in the first exhibition game and two more last week to Hamilton -- which isn't great but also isn't terrible, particularly when you consider Winnipeg was crushed by scores of 24-6 and 52-0 in those two games, respectively.
But it is one thing to protect your quarterback at all costs and quite another to do it while also effectively moving the ball down the field and the Bombers failed miserably on that latter front.
Consider: The Winnipeg offence will take to the field Thursday against the Montreal Alouettes for the first game of the regular season without yet having visited the inside of an opponent's end zone in this calendar year.
'We've not showed all our offence and we haven't played all of our good players. We've tried to keep everyone fresh and bright. And we've got some fresh ideas also... I think we're way ahead of where we were at this point last year'
Now, it's always a mistake to read too much into a CFL pre-season, particularly one in which Bombers head coach Tim Burke essentially set his team up to fail in the service of a larger purpose -- getting his team to this Thursday as healthy as possible.
But even with that as a backdrop, it would be hard to blame Bombers fans if they're a bit nervous about their team's lack of touchdowns through 120 minutes of pre-season football, particularly after the local faithful had to endure a 2012 season in which Winnipeg finished dead last in the CFL in TDs with 33.
That was 18 TDs less than the league-leaders in Montreal generated and that gap is going to have to narrow dramatically this season if the Bombers are going to have any chance to compete for an East Division title.
So the question was put to offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton on Tuesday: You OK with this whole touchdown goose-egg thing?
"I'm not happy with that, no," said Crowton. "But what matters right now is what happens with this game on Thursday. That's what we've been trying to get to.
"We've not showed all our offence and we haven't played all of our good players. We've tried to keep everyone fresh and bright. And we've got some fresh ideas also."
Crowton says when he finally does do the big unveiling, he feels confident the offence fans will see will look a lot more like the unit that was one of the CFL's league-leaders during the final seven games of 2012 than the sad sack bunch that limped out to an 0-4 record to start last season.
"I think we're way ahead of where we were at this point last year," said Crowton. "We were so beat up to start last season -- we were on our third or fourth tailback, we had two tackles out, a guard out, we weren't sure who our centre was, (slotback) Cory Watson didn't play the first four games.
"We are not the team that started last season."
They are also not the same offence. After a disastrous year that saw Bombers quarterbacks sacked 44 times -- only Edmonton gave up more in 2012 -- Crowton redesigned the offence to make it look a lot more like the package that has kept Montreal's Anthony Calvillo mostly healthy all these years.
That will mean lots of quick reads in 2013 and extra protection packages with tight ends and fullbacks. But it will also require Bombers starting QB Buck Pierce to begin behaving a lot more like Calvillo and place more of a premium on his own self-preservation.
Crowton thinks Pierce is finally ready to shed his gunslinger ways after eight tumultuous CFL seasons.
"What I know from the years that I've coached is that quarterbacks get smarter as they get older," said Crowton.
"Once they feel the game, they learn to survive a bit better. And Buck's at that age. He's been through some good seasons, he's been tough and he's been known for that toughness and people rally behind him.
"But he also knows that he's got to change that style of game. He's got to be poised, he's got to get the ball out of his hand quickly, he's got to manage the game from a different viewpoint than he did earlier in his career.
"That's what he's been training to do in practice this year and that's what we've been trying to teach him to do."
We'll find out Thursday if Pierce has finally learned his lesson.