Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

On the Blue bubble

Who's in the mix for winning, losing a CFL gig

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One thing is certain in Bomberland these days and that is that very few incumbents should feel comfortable about their job security.

Returning players such as running back Will Ford and punter Mike Renaud are clinging to their jobs, and the message around training camp is very clear: produce or pack.

Competition, a sense of urgency and productivity were all areas Bombers GM Kyle Walters placed a premium on when he put his training-camp roster together, and there is no entitlement among the players working for spots with the Blue Bombers this summer.

Want to play for coach Mike O'Shea? Then be at your best and show it on a daily basis.

The early returns at camp are showing a number of new faces will be holding down starting jobs when the Bombers open the season on June 26 against the Toronto Argonauts.

The Bombers travel to Calgary to meet the Stampeders on Saturday night, and the final game of the pre-season will provide one more chance for players looking for full-time work to show what they can do.

Here's a look at some key players that are on the verge of securing starting positions and some surprises that have turned heads and can use Saturday night to create headaches for Walters and the coaching staff when they make their final decisions:

 

QUARTERBACK

The starter

Drew Willy: He's separated himself from the group and proven he's ready to start. Willy has shown he's steady and poised. Calm is a word that's been heard from the coaching staff and teammates. He has worked hard to grasp the playbook and his strength is his decision-making.

The surprise

Robert Marve: The best arm in the bunch. He'll get another look on Saturday but he's a lock to hold down the No. 3 slot. Max Hall and Brian Brohm will fight for the No. 2 spot to provide some stability and insurance should Willy get hurt. But don't be surprised if Marve is the first off the bench when the Bombers need a change of pace. There's more upside in Marve while Hall and Brohm appear to be best suited as backups.

 

WIDE RECEIVER

The starter

Nick Moore: Simply the best in the bunch. Polished and accomplished, Moore has 80 catches and 1,000 yards written all over him. He's a hard worker and is driven to succeed. In a word, he's professional. A great get for the Bombers.

The surprise

Donavon Kemp: Saturday's game will be his opportunity to win a job. Made a pair of great catches, including a long, over-the-shoulder beauty against the Argos on Monday night. He's opened some eyes, now he needs to close the deal.

 

RUNNING BACK

The starter

Nic Grigsby: Smooth, tough and great in pass protection. Polished and deceptively fast. He's stepped in and shown he can carry the load.

The surprise

Paris Cotton: Maybe a little too small to be the every-down back, but a classic scatback with all kinds of speed and game-breaker potential. Can return kicks and might prove effective catching the ball out of the backfield.

 

OFFENSIVE LINE

The starter

Patrick Neufeld: Came in and proved he could start. Has been versatile and can play a number of spots along the line. Has the potential to blossom into a reliable and efficient Canadian starter. So far, so good, and he's earned a spot in the first unit.

The surprise

Matthias Goosen: The question will be when the coaching staff is ready to put him into the fire. He's shown he can handle the job physically and mentally. Now he needs real-live reps. Goosen is a football player and could be the best of this bunch in time. The coaches will need their hand forced either by Walters to live outside of their comfort zone or have an injury hasten his arrival. Goosen is going to play and he's going to start. It's just a matter of when.

 

DEFENSIVE LINE

The starter

Greg Peach: His name keeps popping up in Mike O'Shea's press briefings and he's best described simply as a "football player." Always moving and working and producing. Peach will be one of the leaders with this unit and has quickly become an important figure in the evolution the Bombers are trying to enact.

The surprise

Jake Thomas: Has taken advantage of the opportunity opened up by Ryan Lucas's season-ending injury. Works hard and has shown the ability to learn. Can physically handle the workload and seems to have taken a big step forward in the opinion of the coaching staff.

 

DEFENSIVE BACK

The starter

Chris Randle: Comes to work, shuts down receivers, says nothing, goes home. Physical, tenacious and a dream to coach. If Randle stays healthy, he'll make his side of the field a tough place in which to complete passes.

The surprise

Demond Washington: His maturity has caught up with his talent. A bit of a problem child the last couple of years, all that seems to have been erased, and the word around the locker-room is Washington is ready for more work and responsibility.

 

LINEBACKER

The starter

Ian Wild: First to work in the morning and last to leave. If he's not in the film room, he's in the weight room. Loves the game and the action in the heavy-traffic areas. Gets to the ball and delivers a wallop. An old-school linebacker with a new-age approach to training and preparation.

The surprise

Graig Newman: Earned his way into the league as a special-teams player with the Saskatchewan Roughriders but is now ready for a bigger role. Understands the Bombers' defensive scheme and has the athletic ability to succeed. He's earned the gig, now let's see how he performs once the grind of the season begins.

 

KICKER

The starter

Brett Maher: Went 2-for-2 kicking field goals with a long of 47 in the pre-season game against the Argos. Also had a 44-yard average over seven punts. Maher is an American, and the only way he stays is if he can win both jobs, and right now, things are headed in that direction.

The surprise

Lirim Hajrullahu: Lots to like about this Canadian rookie and he can do both jobs. Incumbent punter Mike Renaud has a back injury and it might cost him his spot. Money and a Canadian passport might tempt the Bombers to go with Hajrullahu to handle all the kicking duties. Keep an eye on this fight.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 12, 2014 D3

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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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