Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue turnaround possible

But three important things must happen

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You've had the long weekend to come to grips with the reality that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are in deep after six weeks of the season, so let's look ahead.

Trust us. It's best if you don't turn back.

There's nothing left to say about the 1-5 start that hasn't already been said. This team has serious, crippling problems on offence and defence, and while it is too early to completely rule out the possibility of things turning around -- as remote as those odds may be -- it's going to take a serious reversal of fortune for the 21-year championship drought to end with a champagne celebration this fall.

Twelve games remain, but the first third was odoriferous.

Lots of schedule left, true, but it FEELS like the season is over, doesn't it?

Because no one asked, here are three things that need to happen to the on-field product guaranteed* to make the second third of the season a little easier to swallow for Bomber followers:

*Note: Not a guarantee.

 

2

Well, duh. The club is averaging only 321 yards of offence per game and is managing to put up 21 points per contest. Those numbers largely fall to Alex Brink, who hasn't been consistent enough. Outside of the Edmonton win, he's only moved the offence when the game was already decided and the opposition defence was thinking about the post-game meal.

In the final 16 minutes against Montreal, when the listless Bombers were already down by 18 points last week, Brink went 16-of-20 passing to push his season completion percentage above the 50 per cent mark (53.5). Six career starts or not, that number is way too low.

Where does Winnipeg go from here? Joey Elliott remains a man of mystery (he has only seen a quarter of action in a blowout loss to Edmonton) and Buck Pierce has injury issues again.

The veteran starter is currently dealing with a bad foot. He says he'll be back before September but if the losing continues over the next six games, the Bombers need to consider examining the depth chart behind him. Is it possible the "quarterback of the future" isn't even on the current roster? Scary thought.

 

2

After giving up 36 points and 472 yards to the Alouettes Friday, Winnipeg is allowing an average of 419 yards and 33 points per game. Those are the numbers. One can't ignore them.

Reasons for the results vary -- injuries, inexperience, players playing out of position, players not meeting expectations -- but here's a new angle to consider: Who is the leader on defence right now?

Winnipeg's 'D' hasn't been clueless (they've shown flashes of shutdown play at times) but they've appeared fragile when the going gets tough. Breakdowns across the board have allowed the big play and the laissez-faire attitude of some suggests the unit might be missing an on-field general. If you think about it, the defence hasn't really shown the same consistency since middle linebacker Joe Lobendahn went down with an injury last September.

Maybe that's the biggest issue.

Resumés are being accepted during this bye week. Apply within.

 

2

With the youth movement gone wild, management's misjudgments and injuries, the head coach has been given a tough hand to play. This doesn't completely absolve LaPolice and his staff, though, as some game-day decisions (or lack thereof) have morphed into disturbing trends on the sideline.

First off, LaPolice's in-game reluctance to make a change at quarterback is baffling. Brink should have been lifted in favour of Elliott in the third quarter against Montreal, just to see the reaction -- or any sign of a pulse -- from his offence.

Along those lines, the club hasn't looked ready to play. The Bombers have been outscored 47-7 in first quarters this year. This reality falls to the coaching staff.

Some free advice, coach: Hire a speechwriter, because whatever is being said leading up to games isn't working.

Not even close.

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @wazoowazny

Bud Riley dies at 86

 

Some sad news for the Winnipeg football community as Bud Riley, a former head coach of the Blue Bombers in the 1970s, passed away over the weekend.

Riley, the father of another former Bombers head coach, Mike Riley, died Saturday at his home in central British Columbia. He was 86.

After a year with the Saskatchewan Roughriders (1973), Riley took over for Jim Spavital as head coach of the Bombers the following season. The Alabama-born Riley spent four years as the Winnipeg coach (1974-77), compiling a 34-28-2 record in 64 games. He led the Blue and Gold to three straight playoff appearances in his final three seasons, but failed to pick up a post-season win.

He was relieved of his head coaching duties following the '77 season, replaced by Ray Jauch.

Riley held CFL head coaching positions with Toronto, Hamilton, and Calgary, and was also an assistant in Edmonton.

Prior to coming to Canada, he spent eight seasons coaching in the Oregon State University program, where son Mike currently serves as the head coach.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 7, 2012 D3

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