The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have received the worst-possible news on Graig Newman: the Canadian linebacker is lost for the entire 2014 season after suffering an ankle injury Saturday night in Calgary.
Bombers GM Kyle Walters issued a statement on Newman this morning:
"It is with deep regret we must announce that linebacker Graig Newman suffered a dislocated and fractured ankle Saturday night in our game against Calgary, and will miss the 2014 season. He will undergo surgery by Dr. Peter MacDonald today, and begin rehabbing shortly after. Graig is not only a great football player, but a great person, and our entire organization supports him throughout this process. We look forward to him beginning rehab and returning to the field as soon as possible."
Newman, signed as a free agent in the offseason after two years with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, also issued the following statement:
"This is obviously very disappointing, as I was really looking forward to being a part of all the new things going on in the Blue Bomber organization. I would like to thank all of my teammates for their unconditional support, including immediately after it happened. I would also like to thank the club’s medical staff for their efforts and care within the past two days. And lastly, the fans of the Blue Bombers who have sent messages offering their support. This is a great province to play football in, and I look forward to getting back out there as soon as possible."
The loss of Newman is a crippling blow to a team trying to upgrade its Canadian talent. The 25-year-old Saskatoon Hilltops product is versatile enough to play both linebacker and defensive back and was to play a key role in the Bombers’ new defensive scheme.
But head coach Mike O’Shea said this afternoon he is hopeful Newman may return before the end of the season:
"Graig’s a guy we went after hard in the offseason. I’m not saying he’s done for the season," said O’Shea. "I know that’s what’s been said in the report, but I’m optimistic and so is he. We’ll see him soon. He’s already in his mind figuring out his rehab and how hard he’s going to work. He’s a tough, tough character, he’s a hard-working guy who loves football. We’ll see what kind of spirit that will produce. Ask me again in a couple months, three months possibly. He’s got a good spirit."
The club also announced the release of five players: offensive lineman Chris Kowalczuk and running back Errol Brooks, both Canadians, and defensive lineman Kenny Tate, receiver C.J. Tarver and kicker Brett Maher, all imports.
The release of Maher comes just days after his wife gave birth prior to the exhibition game in Calgary and after he decided to forego joining her to try and land a roster spot. Maher, who did not miss a field goal during the preseason, was being asked to handle all three kicking chores – field goals, kickoffs and punting – if the club was to go with an American at the position. The decision to release him means veteran Mike Renaud will remain the punter while rookie Lirim Hajrullahu – both Canadians – will handle the placekicking.
"I said all along in that battle he had to win that job out-right in all three phases and I think he drew even in all three phases," said O’Shea. "It was a pretty even draw if you look at it all and the way our roster shapes up that wasn’t necessarily good enough for him. If he doesn’t land on his feet somewhere then, I mean, people aren’t watching the tape or their rosters are already set. He’s a good young man, strong leg who did everything we asked and did it well. Tough decision but he knew going in what he had to do."