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There are still lessons to learn from the corpse of 2013

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One of the luxuries of being the fan of a CFL team is no matter how bad your team plays, your club usually still has post-season hopes late into the season in a league where six of the eight teams make the playoffs.

But there are limits, even in the CFL. And that limit will in all likelihood soon be reached for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who with one more loss would fall to 2-13 and be officially eliminated from playoff contention. They play the Alouettes in Montreal Monday and then have three games remaining.

That is extraordinarily early to be eliminated in the CFL and so it raises the question: Does any of what's left of the 2013 season for the Bombers even matter anymore?

It does. And here's why?

1. Are these guys actors or pretenders?

I'd argue the three most important players in the Bombers organization right now are all doing their jobs in an acting capacity -- CEO Wade Miller, GM Kyle Walters and, yes, even head coach Tim Burke.

While Burke technically doesn't have the acting tag attached to his job as the first two men do, at this point in a disastrous season Burke is also basically in a caretaker role as the season plays out, buying the front office time so they can decide in the off-season where they go from here.

If this team shows no signs of improvement on the field the rest of the way -- and I don't necessarily mean just wins, but at least some glimmer of improvement or room for hope -- then I think you could make the case that all three men need to go at season's end.

But if the opposite occurs and this team shows in the final four weeks not only that they've arrested the slide but have also begun to dig themselves out of this crater in a meaningful way, then you could at least make the case from a football operations point of view that maybe the troika deserve one more chance in 2014.

Would the fans buy it? That's a different question.

2. Is there at least a nucleus of players upon which to stage the 2014 rebuild?

Obviously, the biggest hole in the Bombers roster is at quarterback, although I'd argue Max Hall could still demonstrate with some more consistent play in the final month that he could be a serviceable backup in the CFL.

But what about the rest of the team? For instance, was the 156 yards that Will Ford rushed for last week -- not to mention his second kickoff return for a TD this season -- indicative of the kind of explosive running game the Bombers could so desperately use next season?

Ford is a free agent after this season. A big performance out of Ford for the last month of this season, especially now that Chad Simpson is done for the season and out of the picture, would go a long way to at least begin to answer that key question heading into 2014.

Wide receiver Aaron Kelly? Looks like a keeper, but let's see more. All those new offensive linemen? As we wrote in this space Friday, all the new QBs in the world won't do Winnipeg any good next season unless the O-line does a better job of protecting them.

The secondary? Blow it up or salvage it? The defensive line? Who's the new dominant rush end now that Alex Hall is gone?

Lots of fuzzy personnel questions, in other words, that should come into clearer focus in this final month.

3. It matters because it matters to the fans

The taxpayers of this community-sponsored football team ponied up the better part of $200 million to build the Bombers a football palace and the team promptly soiled it -- and themselves -- with an inaugural season that was beyond even the worst of worst-case scenarios.

And yet fans continue to come, game after game, even as the team has got worse instead of better. Have their numbers dwindled? Of course, but the fact anyone is still turning up at all -- much less actually still buying tickets -- is everything that is right about pro football fans in this city.

In a season in which -- the Banjo Bowl excepted -- the fans in Winnipeg have had nothing to cheer about at Investors Group Field, this team owes them better, even if it's just in a spoiler role.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2013 C5

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