Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Foul stench of decay lifted from Big Blue

Clean new aura surrounds team

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It doesn't smell like crap in Bomberland anymore.

If confidence comes in the form of an aura it can also be said there's a stench that comes along with being inept. That smell permeated the Blue Bombers and everything they did the last couple of years. It's gone.

The Bombers have some work to do in terms of fully restoring their credibility, but they've begun the job. Wade Miller opened the windows and aired the place out. Then he brought in men without the stink of rot clinging to their clothes and let them do their jobs.

Monday night's pre-season game against the Toronto Argonauts may not have been perfect, but the soundtrack wasn't circus music.

Head coach Mike O'Shea didn't make any discernible blunders that had the post-game call in show lines buzzing. Offensive co-ordinator Marcel Bellefeuille wasn't backed into a corner by media jackals before blurting out he was "still learning the game."

Players weren't shaking their heads in amazement before claiming this must certainly be rock bottom.

None of the harbingers of doom easily detected for so very long around this team were apparent.

Sorry to go back to this point, but there just isn't the stink of confusion and apathy in the building. A solid crowd showed up and stayed until the end. So did their team. The Bombers kept fighting and didn't implode. They looked organized and worked with a purpose. The second coming of Doug Flutie or Dan Kepley didn't announce himself but neither did T.J. Rubley.

Maybe it's a low bar to commend the Bombers for not being terrible, but if you've been forced to watch this team sink deeper into the mire on what seemed like weekly basis, this development is refreshing.

It also leads to some easy conclusions. The Bombers will win more games than the three victories they fell into last season. It's not a stretch to see them developing into a .500 team.

Quarterback Drew Willy showed exactly what one wants to see from a project. He moved the ball, threw some strong passes and was composed. He revealed a foundation that can be built upon.

Willy looked stable if not flashy. If he can develop into an efficient game manager the Bombers will be miles ahead of where they were a year ago. If it turns out there's even more upside, as quarterback scout Danny McManus believes, throw out the form chart. Crazy things happen in the CFL and teams can get a lot better in short order.

Guessing about the potential growth of players after one pre-season game is a wasted exercise. But seeing and determining the change in an organization's methods can provide value when analyzing where a team is headed.

Just like it was easy to know the Bombers were going to suck last season, it's obvious now they're taking care of the business they can control. Organization, preparedness and effort. All those principles slipped through the cracks under the previous administration.

Miller and GM Kyle Walters have done their work and given O'Shea the tools to compete. They've added scouts and coaches and worked hard to bring in talented football players. All good things.

O'Shea, however, represents the tipping point. He's the fork in the road. It's his job to make sure the Bombers walk, talk and act like a football team. Not a squabbling circus troupe.

Already the rookie head coach has established things will be done his way. His way led to three Grey Cups as a player and one as an assistant coach.

What O'Shea's methods will ultimately add up to in Winnipeg remains to be seen, but one thing we can already definitively say is his teams won't be beaten before they start. Maybe that seems like a low bar, but around here it's a definite upgrade. And they don't stink. Also a good thing.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 10, 2014 D1

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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 www.winnipegfreepress.com
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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