Quarterback Buck Pierce will be the anointed starter as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head into training camp, Bombers head coach Tim Burke said on Monday, with an untested Justin Goltz and two new imports jockeying for position behind him.
It's a risk to have three QBs without much CFL experience battling behind the injury-plagued Pierce, Burke admitted, but it's one the team believes it has to take. "We have an opportunity now to try and develop the quarterback for the future," he said during a conference call on Monday. "Obviously there's a little bit of risk in what we're doing, but hopefully by the end... we're going to end up with a franchise that's on top."
Burke said the Bombers considered hunting for a CFL veteran to back up Pierce, but ultimately decided to dump Alex Brink and sign former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Max Hall and one-time NCAA star Chase Clement to round out the roster. The Bombers announced those moves Monday.
The Bombers have been pursuing Hall and Clement for "a number of years now," Burke said. Although the two new additions will have lots of cramming to do to learn the Canadian game, Burke said the fact both have pro experience will help.
"You're talking about two guys, Max who's played in the NFL, and Chase Clement has started and won championships in the United Football League," Burke said. "We're not talking about guys who are rookies coming just out of college. We're talking about guys who have been in professional football."
In a conference call Monday, Clement, who played four years at Rice University and smashed a pile of NCAA records, said he was excited to join the team. He and Hall visited Winnipeg recently to meet coaches, tour the new Investors Group Field and watch film of the Canadian game.
It isn't the first time Clement, who played in the United Football League, has had a taste of the CFL. The 6-1 Clement signed on with the Hamilton Tiger Cats in 2009, but left the team shortly into training camp, amid reports his heart wasn't into playing in Canada.
Clement said things are different this time around. "I think just where I was mentally, I just wasn't in the right place at the time when I was in Hamilton," he said, noting he was still hoping for a chance in the NFL. "Where I am now, my approach to the game... there's a lot of things I've learned over the last couple of years. I'm excited, I really am."
Hall, 27, was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Arizona Cardinals in 2010 and played in six games that season, completing 39 of 78 pass attempts for 370 yards and a touchdow, but he injured his non-throwing shoulder in 2011 and required surgery that sidelined him for the season. That shoulder is now fully healed, Hall said Monday.
In 2012, he looked for another opportunity to play in the NFL, but one didn't materialize. Instead, Hall went back to Brigham Young University where he wrapped up his degree in property facility management and helped coach his former BYU Cougars football team alongside retired CFL icon Ben Cahoon.
"He's the one who started talking to me about the CFL," Hall said. "He thought I could go play in the CFL and thought I was good enough."
Still, Hall thought he might retire from playing and pursue a full-time coaching career until Winnipeg came calling.
After coming into town last week to tour the Bombers facilities, "I was like 'ahh, I really hope these guys call me back,'" Hall said.
"I loved everything about it. I loved the brand-new stadium, loved the coaching staff, loved the general manager... I hear the fans and the people are great, and they support the team, and everybody knows you in town. I'm excited to be up there and be a part of it."
As for Brink, who has been with the club since 2010, Mack issued a statement thanking the quarterback for his contributions and saying the club decided to go in a "different direction."
On Twitter, Brink offered his gratitude to the fans. "I'm truly going to miss my teammates, the city, and the fans," he wrote. "On to the next battle. Setbacks setup comebacks. God Bless.
"It's been an incredible ride Winnipeg. Thanks for a lot of great memories. I'm proud to say I was a Blue Bomber!"