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Walters prowling NFL camps for help

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TORONTO -- Drew Willy might be willing to take the fall for last Thursday's loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders but Bombers GM Kyle Walters knows the issue is far more systemic than just a few poor throws from his quarterback.

One way to look at the loss is that it was a close game to the very end and if not for the Bombers turning the ball over six times, it could have been a different result.

Walters, however, isn't into ifs and buts. And he looks at his young quarterback prospect and doesn't like the position he was put into, having to throw the ball 39 times.

The Bombers were unable to generate any run game, with their two running backs finishing the game for a combined eight yards. Again and again it was left for quarterback Willy to try and generate offence with his arm. The Riders began to key on the pass and that resulted in Willy forcing throws and eventually making mistakes.

No ground game leaves the Bombers a one-dimensional team and Walters hates the look and sound of that.

"Mike (O'Shea) and I had a lengthy talk about the run game on the phone after I watched it on the computer. I think Drew did a great job, but if you are continually in second and eight or second and 10 you're going to get bit in the ass and that's what happened to us," said Walters late Sunday afternoon. "When the weather gets worse around here in the fall it's not realistic to think we're going to step back and throw the ball 40 times a game. Especially in poor weather. We're trying to tinker with the offensive line. Bob (offensive line coach Wylie) is working his tail off and Marcel (offensive co-ordinator Marcel Bellefeuille) is working his tail off too. It's difficult to make dramatic changes right now. But our scouting department will come together later in August for about 10 days and we'll prepare for practice-roster expansion and see what we can come up with."

Willy has just over 10 career starts as a pro and while watching him push the Bombers to an early 5-2 record, it simply isn't sustainable. He needs support, better pass protection and a run game to lean on.

That's Walters' next big task.

CFL practice rosters are currently limited to 10 players but on Oct. 1 they can be expanded to 15.

Walters has spent the last eight days touring NFL training camps and members of his staff spread out to take in workouts of all 32 teams.

"It's not a quick process. A lot of this work will pay dividends in two or three years time from now. We're compiling lists and putting names into our database. These players don't immediately come up to the CFL," said Walters. "But our scouts are experienced and have been collecting names of players for years," said Walters. "We'll see what comes available and if there are players that can help us, we'll bring them in."

Walters was promised by CEO Wade Miller that he would have expanded budgets for scouting and the money has been there. Miller also told Walters he would make sure there was money to spend to the cap this season and when the new CBA pushed the cap to $5 million, the CEO didn't blink.

"I had done all my planning based on the old cap of $4.4 million," said Walters. "Then when it went up, it changed the landscape. Wade just said he'd make it happen. It's not like I just went out and burned an extra $600,000. But if I can make a rationale for it, the money is there."

For Walters, the short-term work has been acceptable but he's equally focused on next season and his longer-term plans.

"The coaches don't want to hear about the players I'm going to bring to our mini-camp in Florida next winter or who will be at training camp next spring," said Walters. "That's the nature of their job. They care about right now. I have to strike a balance. Sure, we want to win right now and 5-2, we'd have to really fall apart not to be playing meaningful football right until the end. We'd love to host a home playoff game. We want to get in the playoffs and have our players playing important games after Labour Day and right until the end of the season."

Last season, Walters made some trades prior to the deadline to try and improve the future but he doesn't expect he'll have that opportunity this fall.

"Even last year, we were kind of still in it at the time we made those moves," said Walters. "It's a nine-team league and six teams make the playoffs. Last year was an anomaly."

The most rapid improvement on the Bombers roster has been on the defensive side of the ball. Speed and intensity are easier to come by in the U.S. market.

"I'm comfortable with our American depth. When we have an American player go down, the guys we're plugging in can play. We have some good players that aren't getting into games," said Walters. "We've done a better job on defence of having American depth. We're striving for that across the board. On the Canadian side, well, it's a work in progress."

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 11, 2014 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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