Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bombers not letting defence rest

Ex-NFL types brought in to create chaos for offences

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A more talented, experienced and violent defence will make the Winnipeg Blue Bombers a better football team and lead them to more wins this season.

The snow has just begun to melt here and only a handful of Bombers are in town these days, but off-season scouting, spending and signings already tell the tale of how this team will be constructed and compete this summer.

Offence takes time, especially when you're grooming a quarterback. Defence? Get meaner and faster and watch the points-against instantly shrink. Meet your 2014 Winnipeg Blue Bombers organizational game plan.

Fix what you can and do it fast has been the order of business for Bombers management this winter. Defence and special teams are the quickest and easiest tweaks in football, and Mike O'Shea's Blue Bombers will try to win with an airtight defence, elite special teams and a solid run game.

The five-year plan is likely a lot different and will include a sophisticated offence and top-end passing game, but that takes time. Building a CFL defence predicated on speed and chaos can be rapidly accelerated if a GM has scouts in the right place and is willing to spend.

Bombers GM Kyle Walters has been busy adding expensive defenders with experience to his roster all winter.

Korey Banks, Jason Vega, Chris Randle and Donovan Alexander -- all starters and all new additions. Plugging those four in makes the Bombers' defence immediately better.

The work of scouts Danny McManus and Ted Goveia takes the improvement one step further.

College kids are great; pros with NFL experience and the hunger to extend their careers are much better. Lots of NFL players come up to Canada hoping for a few more paycheques. They don't work out. The ones who arrive in shape and with a plan to get back to the NFL and its big money become difference-makers in the CFL.

Gerald McRath, Brandon Hogan, Maurice Leggett, Doug Hogue and Leon Williams are all players with NFL pedigree, uncovered by the Bombers' scouting staff. None of this group signed with the team for the league minimum and all are expected to play and have an impact.

The Bombers know there will be growing pains with a young quarterback, and Drew Willy isn't being asked to immediately put up Most Outstanding Player numbers. The goal is to grow and develop Willy and hopefully stabilize the quarterback position in Winnipeg. This won't be easy and it won't be fast.

But that doesn't mean the Bombers have to suck for the next couple of years. Defence can win games, and while O'Shea is on board with the long-term vision, he wants to win and wants to win now. Development and winning can happen simultaneously in the CFL.

Defensive co-ordinator Gary Etcheverry's defence has many layers but is simplistic in its foundation. Etcheverry coaches a disruptive style -- organized chaos based on speed and violence. He wants a bunch of versatile players in his front seven who are fast and like to hit.

The scheme can grow more complex over time, but in the beginning it's about hitting the other guy harder, swarming the ball and making it difficult for an offence to get into a rhythm and execute its plan.

Walters' job is to get Etcheverry the players he needs to carry out this kind of attack.

So far, so good.

Maybe the offence will be a little dry at times this summer, and when the Bombers win, it will be ugly.

But wins of any kind will be a lot prettier than what we witnessed last summer.

Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 10, 2014 D5

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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