Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

At least they have their health

Shellacking looks bad, but simply too early to tell

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GUELPH, Ont. -- So you know how things always seem a little brighter in the warm morning light?

Well, you'd think that would be especially true after a night as dark as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had Thursday in a 52-0 pre-season shellacking at the hands of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Except that, upon closer review, it says here that things were actually worse for the Bombers than they might have first appeared Thursday night.

How, you're asking yourself, could it possibly be any worse than a 52-0 defeat that finished a pre-season for the Bombers in which they lost both games by a combined score of 76-6 and never saw the end zone?

Well, here's the thing. The spin out of the Bombers locker-room Thursday night was, "Yeah, we got shellacked, but hey, those guys had all their veterans playing and we had, let's face it, our scrubs."

Or words to that effect.

And that's certainly true. But when you pick through the bones left behind in the carnage, what emerges is it was Hamilton's rookies who did the majority of the damage to Winnipeg.

Consider:

-- Hamilton defensive back Raymond Brown, who picked off Winnipeg quarterbacks three times and forced a fumble, is a CFL rookie.

-- Hamilton returner Lindsey Lamar, who ran back a Mike Renaud first-quarter punt 78 yards for a touchdown? Rookie.

-- Ticats receiver Greg Ellingson, who found himself alone behind the Bombers secondary for a 58-yard second-quarter touchdown reception? Another rookie.

-- Ticats defensive back Erik Harris, who had an interception and a fumble recovery? You guessed it, yet another rookie.

So let's not kid ourselves. While there's no taking away the impact that veteran Hamilton QB Henry Burris had on this game -- he was masterful in completing 13 of 17 first-half passes for 198 yards and two TDs -- the cold, hard fact is the Bombers rookies were beaten by Hamilton's rookies.

Just like last week when the Bombers veterans were beaten by Toronto's rookies in a 24-6 thrashing at Investors Group Field.

Sensing a theme here?

Now, it's always a bad idea to get too hot and bothered by pre-season results. And that seems particularly true in this case with a Bombers head coach in Tim Burke who has made it crystal clear that he is to pre-season games what dogs are to squirrels.

Indeed, if you went to Burke today and told him the CFL was going to do away with the pre-season entirely next year and just play 20 regular-season games, he'd no doubt be delighted.

But still -- 76-6? Just be patient, says Burke.

As Burke sees it, pre-season games have all kinds of downside, players tend to get hurt, and very little upside. Burke figures he can judge talent just as easily in practice, with way less risk.

So before everyone goes calling for the guy's head, Burke asks only that you give his little pre-season experiment a chance to play out here a little bit.

And we won't have to wait long. If Burke is right and the best course of action for the past month was to sacrifice a full veteran effort in the pre-season to field the healthiest possible lineup in the regular season, then we should see the positive results this Thursday when the Bombers take on the Montreal Alouettes in the first-ever regular-season game at Investors Group Field.

Burke will have almost all his 24 desired starters on offence and defence on the field -- slotback Terrence Edwards and defensive back Johnny Sears are still questionable.

That was Burke's plan all along and he stuck to it through thick and, mostly, a whole lot of thin.

We'll find out very soon what this new day brings.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2013 C1

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