Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Walters needs to keep his eyes on the prize

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Glenn January is Winnipeg's best offensive lineman, but could trading him make the Bombers a better team in the long run?


Glenn January is Winnipeg's best offensive lineman, but could trading him make the Bombers a better team in the long run? Photo Store

Kyle Walters can't be handcuffed by the past or the current appetite for victory here in Winnipeg. Walters needs to be free to chase more than a .500 record and some good feelings this summer.

All things being equal, the Blue Bombers should get spanked tonight in B.C. by the Lions, but for Walters a second loss on the season should only affirm the fact his roster is thin, light on Canadian talent and still in the very early stages of a rebuild.

A rebuild in the CFL doesn't have to take five years but it does require some basics and putting a stopwatch on the process doesn't speed it up. Walters got a quarterback this offseason and the early returns suggest Drew Willy is a pivot the Bombers can build around.

Now it's time for Walters to be clear-eyed and realistic and keep his eye on the true objective and not be swayed by the ups and downs of a season that will almost certainly end short of the ultimate goal.

Do what is needed to get to the real destination, no matter the pit stops in between.

Walters isn't interested in being the next Blue Bombers executive that won a few playoff games but never a Grey Cup and if he has to deal with short-term pain to reach his goal he should do what he thinks best. Walters needs to operate in a vacuum and external considerations be damned.

Wade Miller wants and needs to win games now. Mike O'Shea wants and needs to win games all the time. Walters has a bigger prize in mind and to do this he might have to ignore the wants and needs of his two most important colleagues.

The Blue Bombers roared out to a 3-0 record and the fan base became swollen with pride. So did lots of the folks around Bomberland. But Walters wasn't fooled and when his club got spanked last week by the Edmonton Eskimos. It only underscored what he already knew: The Bombers are better than last year's team but have a long way to go before they can be called contenders.

Tonight's result against the B.C. Lions, whether it's an unlikely win or the expected loss, won't change this. The same goes for limping into the playoffs this season. Such a result would only cover up blemishes that eventually must be solved for the Bombers to be a legitimate power again.

Don't be fooled by the club's 3-1 record. It's a mirage. The Bombers have major flaws that the score of their first three games masked.

Remember the 7-1 start in 2011 that resulted in a Grey Cup appearance and predictable loss? That team wasn't as good as its record suggested and eventually it crashed.

Walters must be honest with himself and continue to evaluate and turn over this roster. It's not that strong and he knows it.

If one believes Walters has been unable to undo all the damage previously inflicted on his organizational roster they are wrong. Walters has been on the job less than one year and he's done a lot. But the job has really only begun.

The Bombers are thin on Canadian talent and have a major issue along the offensive line that can't be fixed overnight.

Walters needs, in his own words, to "overspend on Canadians," in free agency and use the draft to improve his team's largest weakness which is its national (formerly non-import) status.

The Bombers will start three Americans on the offensive line again this week. Not a winning formula in the CFL and the way this trio and their two Canadian counterparts got pushed around last week it's obvious not just the Canadians on the line need to be looked at but also the Yanks.

Glenn January has been a good player for Winnipeg and he's far and away their best offensive lineman. But he may serve a bigger purpose for the club wearing another team's uniform. One good player does not a line make. And if taking the best part out of a weak unit can lead to improvement of the whole, it has to be considered.

If Walters is approached with a deal similar to last season's international (formerly import) defensive lineman Alex Hall for Canadian guard Pat Neufeld involving January and a useful Canadian or a draft pick coming back, he'll be wise to take it.

The only reason January is singled out is he's an international of value that could collect a meaningful return. The Bombers don't have many of those.

Losing January would hurt, but in some ways he's being wasted here in Winnipeg. He can't carry the offensive line by himself and this isn't a group that needs a tweak. It needs an overhaul and January could be a catalyst.

The trade deadline is a long way off on Oct. 15 and Walters will have lots of time between now and then to gauge his club and the level of interest in some of his players.

Certainly it's too early to start selling assets. But it's also too early to be getting carried away by a thimble of success.

Not when a gallon full of the good stuff is the true goal. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 25, 2014 C2


Updated on Friday, July 25, 2014 at 7:52 AM CDT: Changes former terms import and non-import to current international and national terms. Corrects Glenn January's status.

8:01 AM: adds photo

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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
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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