The Winnipeg Blue Bombers players emptied their lockers at Investors Group Field Sunday morning, many of them for the final time.
With the club now done for the season after a 37-7 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at IGF on Saturday, players loaded their gear into garbage bags Sunday and began to head out for the four corners of the continent.
With widespread and systemic exchange expected this winter for a Bombers team that tied a franchise record for futility with a 3-15 record in 2013, the finality of a season prematurely ended was mixed with anxiety and uncertainty about the future as players said their goodbyes.
"Change is inevitable," said offensive tackle Glenn January. "Something’s going to have to happen with us to right the ship and it still remains to be seen what the solution is."
January, who has morphed into one of the undisputed leaders in the Bombers locker-room, said the mood on Sunday was "a mixed bag. You have some guys who are just happy to be out of here. And you have some guys that are still a bit despondent and upset with the outcome of the season.
"However you want to read into that, I think that could be the story of the season in itself."
One of the areas of the Bombers many think needs to be improved next season is the team’s offensive line, which gave up far too many sacks this season and had difficulty developing a sustained running game.
But January thinks his unit has been unfairly tarnished.
"If you look statistically across the league, I think there’s a lot of offensive lines get a free pass. If you look at our numbers compared to even our most recent opponent Hamilton, the number of sacks and hits they give up with a veteran quarterback who has a quick release is even more than we have. So I don’t know how they’re juggernauts and we’re terrible. You have to actually boil it down and look at what the numbers say.
"Obviously we’re not happy with how our season went and we can be better. But this whole sense we’re the worst in the league is complete nonsense."
Hamilton gave up a league-worst 65 sacks this season, while Winnipeg gave up 50, which was sixth in the league.
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Veteran guard Steve Morley is one of Winnipeg’s 22 potential free agents this winter.
Morley missed the only starts of an otherwise uninterrupted five-year career with the Bombers in 2013 due to a knee injury and there was a feeling among the coaching staff even before the injury that the former NFLer’s play had begun to tail off.
So, will he be back in 2014?
"That’d be nice. I love it here and love the city," said Morley. "But we’ll see what happens. There’s going to be a lot of changes."
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Bombers starting QB Max Hall didn’t have his best game against Hamilton, but he generally showed improvement during the final six weeks of the season and, if nothing else, proved himself the toughest and most durable quarterback the Bombers have had in recent memory.
Hall once again took some hellacious hits against the Ticats and was asked Sunday if the toughness he showed in the late-goings of this season, combined with the steady improvement, warranted a return invite to training camp next year.
"I try to stay in there, man. I feel like I’m pretty resilient and can play through pain," said Hall. "I think I grew as a quarterback in this league and showed that I can lead this team... I think I’m very capable of being a starter if that’s the route they decide to go. But that’s not my decision. If they decide to try bring someone else in, hopefully I’m still here and it’s a guy I can learn from and just keep getting better."