Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mack, Burke did right thing by resting vets during pre-season

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Joe MACK is well aware of the instability of the Blue Bombers franchise, making his decision to take a knee in the pre-season entirely understandable.

Mack watched his team slither out to a lowly 0-4 start last season and he ultimately made the choice to fire head coach Paul LaPolice when the record got to 2-6.

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It's unlikely Mack can survive a similar opening and, as such, needs his best players healthy to put the club's best foot forward in Week 1. Too much surrounding the Bombers, from crowd-flow issues at the new stadium to a disgruntled fan base, is uncertain for a poor start not to cause a drastic reaction.

There is an immense amount of pressure in Bomberland right now and the wave of goodwill created by the new stadium could be threatened by a terrible start to the season.

The Bombers need some good news, and there's no better way to generate positive buzz than with wins.

Mack needs to manage his roster well and push for early success. Losing any number of starters to injury in the final game of the pre-season was deemed unacceptable by the GM, so he told head coach Tim Burke he couldn't use many of them.

The result was entirely predictable, as the Bombers were waxed 52-0 by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Thursday.

Burke says the result doesn't mean anything.

"To me, it means nothing. They are practice games or scrimmages in my mind. You're just trying to evaluate your players and your schemes. We ran three coverages on defence last night and that's not very many. We probably ran 40 per cent of our offence. You're trying to save it all for the first real game."

Before you think, "easy for you to say, coach," consider Burke had to stand on the sidelines in Bombers colours and watch his team get thoroughly embarrassed by the Tiger-Cats.

"It's no fun sitting there taking that, but when you dress as young a team as we did, you're going to get blasted pretty bad," said Burke.

But does it mean anything? Regardless of what Burke says about it right now, we won't know for a week or two. Maybe some are comfortable making an absolute determination on what the Bombers actually are as a team right now, but for me, it's way too early.

Burke needs more time and games that actually count before we reach judgment.

"Give us a chance to get four games under our belt before people make their minds up," he said. "You have to weigh whether you want to have some injuries -- potentially injuries that take a guy out for the whole season. We didn't want that. Also, we practise at close to game speed, so I think our guys will be prepared."

Some will argue all the Bombers can say about their team today is they're healthy. Maybe. But would a more successful pre-season provide concrete evidence the Bombers have improved from last season? Of course not.

The Bombers may or may not suck this season. That remains to be determined. But posting a 2-0 record in the meaningless games would be just that, meaningless.

Mack and Burke took a calculated risk that being a little rusty in Week 1 would be better for them than being a little or, worse, a lot injured. They're healthy. That we can say for sure. Are they going to win games? For that we'll all have to wait a while.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

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

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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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