Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Goltz gets the ball -- we knew that -- but the question is, will he keep it?

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Look, the question at Winnipeg Blue Bombers practice on Wednesday was never really the identity of the club's starting quarterback this Friday against the Calgary Stampeders at Investors Group Field.

Sources had been telling the Free Press all week -- and we'd been reporting it -- that Justin Goltz is going to get the ball Friday night. The background was that the club was dragging out the suspense publicly because they knew it would complicate the Calgary Stampeders practice plans having to practise for two very different QBs in Goltz and regular starter Buck Pierce.

No, the much more compelling question demanding an answer on Wednesday wasn't whether Goltz would start this week, but rather whether the 25-year-old Michigan native has a chance on Friday night to win the starting job away from Pierce for good?

Head coach Tim Burke -- for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is he really likes Pierce personally -- was clearly very uncomfortable with answering that question and tried to wriggle out of it when it was first posed to him in a roundabout way at his daily availability following Wednesday's practice.

"I'm not going to get into hypotheticals. I'm really worried about this week, more than anything. So we'll take it as it comes," said Burke.

'I'm confident if I do well, it will lead to more opportunities in the future. I couldn't tell you if that's the near future or the far future' -- Bombers quarterback Justin Goltz

But when the question was posed to him more directly -- Does Goltz have a chance Friday night to win Buck Pierce's starting job -- Burke had no choice but to give an honest answer that, while still non-committal, would have been unthinkable just a few weeks ago.

"Maybe," Burke said with a grimace.

While Burke didn't expand, his one word answer spoke volumes about just how far Pierce's stock within the Bombers organization has plummeted this season.

While the nominal reason Pierce isn't playing Friday night is because he continues to suffer pain from an abdominal injury sustained in a loss to Toronto last week, the fact Pierce will still dress Friday night and will be on the depth chart as the third stringer behind Goltz and Max Hall indicates there's more to this than meets the eye.

Burke tried to explain away the apparent discrepancy -- Pierce is too hurt to start, but not too hurt to dress? -- by saying it was simply a function of the team having only three QBs on the roster and needing Pierce to fill the third spot, just in case.

"He's not completely healthy," Burke explained, "and we only have three quarterbacks on the roster, so that's the least likely place where he could be reinjured. It would take a lot to get all the way to your third quarterback."

Still, Pierce has practised -- albeit lightly -- all week long. If he was really too hurt to play Friday, the Bombers would have airlifted a quarterback in to stand on the sideline just in case, as they have in similar circumstances in the past.

No, more to the point is that Pierce's abdominal injury last week provided the Bombers braintrust a convenient opportunity to give Goltz a start -- because Pierce is hurt, sure, but also because he wasn't effective even when he was healthy during the first 3-and-a-half games in 2013.

By giving Goltz the start in these circumstances, Pierce is allowed to save face and the Bombers will have no difficulty going back to him next week in Vancouver should Goltz fall flat on his face in what will on Friday be Goltz's first professional start -- and his first non-pre-season start since college in December 2008.

Now, we'd love to be able to tell you what Pierce thinks about all this, but -- perhaps not coincidentally -- the Bombers refused to make him available to the media for the third straight day on Wednesday, continuing to maintain he's an injured player and therefore not subject to interview despite the fact he's been doing some practising all three days.

So the final word will have to go to Goltz, who was asked Wednesday whether he's a one-week injury replacement for Pierce or whether he has a legitimate opportunity this week to unseat the man who's been the starting quarterback of this franchise -- even when he hasn't, due to a litany of injuries -- for the past three-plus seasons.

Like his head coach, Goltz chose his words carefully. "I don't know if I'm the person who can answer that. But I know it's opportunity. I know if I do well, usually quarterbacks are rewarded for that," said Goltz.

"I'm confident if I do well, it will lead to more opportunities in the future. I couldn't tell you if that's the near future or the far future."

With a regular season record at 1-3 and the eternally faithful fanbase reaching record levels of frustration, the future -- and Justin Goltz -- is now.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 25, 2013 D1

History

Updated on Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 7:18 AM CDT: replaces photo, changes headline

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