Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New OC calls up old friends

Bellefeuille working Rolodex in reworking offence

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When August began, Aaron Kelly was at home in Atlanta, training and waiting and hoping he would get another chance to go tearing down a football field.

The summer wasn't easy for the receiver, not after the Hamilton Tiger-Cats cut him late in training camp. When no other pro options shook out, Kelly went home to Georgia, but he didn't give up. Instead, the 27-year-old kept checking CFL news, hoping injuries or roster moves might open a hole where a reedy 6-5 slotback with two seasons of CFL experience could fit.

Finally, it did. When the Bombers installed former Ticats coach Marcel Bellefeuille as their new offensive co-ordinator, Kelly put his agent on the case, hoping his old coach might see a spot for him in Winnipeg.

"Fortunately, there was," the soft-spoken receiver said after his first practice with the Bombers on Wednesday.

"(Bellefeuille) is the guy that gave me my first chance in the CFL. I'm happy he's given me another opportunity here with the Bombers. I didn't know anything about the CFL coming up here... so I pretty much learned everything about playing receiver here, reading defences, all that stuff came from Bellefeuille."

Kelly isn't the only player to find a chance on the advice of the new OC, and he likely won't be the last. Of the seven new Bombers added in the last two weeks, four were once Ticats under Bellefeuille's watch. Besides Kelly, there is Sandro DeAngelis, who kicked for the Ticats in 2010, and defensive back Bo Smith, who was in Hamilton for Bellefeuille's entire stint.

Then there's quarterback Jason Boltus, who played his whole CFL career in Hamilton as a backup under Bellefeuille's scheme, though he was injured for his first two seasons. After joining the Bombers on Wednesday, he'll play that role again.

"It's nice having someone that I've known in the past, so it's not so foreign to me," said Boltus, who is coming off of a season in the American Arena Football League.

"Sometimes, I can kind of know what he wants to run, but at the same time it's a new verbiage, a new offence, so we got to put it together."

Putting it together. That's the plan all right, not just for the playbook but for the personnel, too, as the Bombers look to climb out of marshy middle of this miserable season. Bellefeuille hasn't helped make any calls yet, he said, and acting GM Kyle Walters gives the final seal of approval. Still, the coaches and personnel are wide-open to his input. "He knows them," head coach Tim Burke said of Bellefeuille's mental Rolodex. "That's a real benefit, because sometimes you bring guys in and you don't really know much about them."

That process of bringing guys in is only just beginning, Bellefeuille said. When he landed in Winnipeg, the plan was to fix the offensive schemes that lay in shambles under former OC Gary Crowton.

Now, the team is turning its attention to shoring up its personnel. Kelly is one of them, a receiver who earned a starter's job under Bellefeuille in his rookie season, who has height and can stretch the field right up, who's still young enough to get a CFL career back on track.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2013 D3

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