GARY Crowton’s crash course in Canadian football began a year or so ago, on the very day he was hired by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers as their offensive co-ordinator.
But, his introduction to the game came decades earlier at a free-agent camp in Fresno, Calif.
"I had a tryout with the Saskatchewan Roughriders," said Crowton Tuesday as the Bombers training camp continued at Investors Group Field. "I was a young coach at Snow Junior College and I wanted to give playing one more shot. I can’t remember the year, early ’80s I guess, and it was a three-day camp. They cut after the first day and they cut after the second day. I made it through all those cuts and it came down to two quarterbacks: myself and Joe Paopao.
"They signed him and they told me, ‘Be close and if something happens to Joe Paopao, we’ll bring you up.’ Well, Joe played good forever and they never brought me up. Ever since then I’ve had an affection for the CFL.
"I remember it being fun in those workouts, I remember guys running all over the place."
And now all these years later Crowton is in charge of orchestrating an attack featuring guys running all over the place for the Bombers — interestingly, in the exact same gig Paopao once held with the organization in 1997-98, after his CFL playing days.
But the meat of this story isn’t about an extended trek down memory lane. In many ways it could be argued Crowton’s role with the Bombers this season is as important as any in the organization. Not only is he now at the helm of an attack that finished dead last in scoring a year ago — the Bombers haven’t been in the Top 3 in points since 2002 and haven’t led the league since 2001 — he’s trying to tweak the offence so that his quarterback doesn’t regularly get scraped off the field with a spatula.
Now, without getting too much into the Xs and Os here, Crowton — who assumed full-time play-calling duty last year after Paul LaPolice was let go — has made some adjustments to the way the Bombers do things offensively.
A couple of quick examples he detailed on Tuesday:
1. The old playbook featured a corner route that broke at a high angle and, when completed, could be counted on for about a 30-yard-plus gain. Trouble is, the completion percentage for that play was terribly low. Crowton changed the route to have a flatter angle and give the quarterback more options with a quicker delivery.
2. He found the offensive-line protection schemes to be sound, but featuring too much double-reading by the men in the trenches. That resulted in some indecision in the protection and caused some gaps. That, too, was adjusted.
Crowton’s off-season objective was to put together a system in which the Bombers would work the same things over and over again and then make adjustments off that base. He wants his offence out of the huddle fast and then for it to attack and react accordingly.
It’s by no means revolutionary, but in simplifying things there is a hope the Bombers can be more proficient and efficient.
"The kind of ball I’m thinking of is: Don’t hold it, get rid of it, use the run and the pass quickly, but do it in a way that is rhythmic so we can get on a roll," Crowton said. "I want to control it and move it down there at a good, fast clip. All that experience I’ve had in the U.S.... I’ve tried to Canadian-ize it, so to speak, to the CFL game.
"You know, this is something I want to do and I want to do it well, too. I’m not looking just to be here for a quick day and then go. I want to have success here and enjoy it, because it’s so much fun."
It could be said Crowton’s adjustments — and management’s faith in his schemes — was critical in the team’s decision to bring back Buck Pierce. It’s their belief — their fingers crossed, no doubt — that this system could help keep their QB off the disabled list.
"You know, at this point in my career I’ve had a lot of coaches, a lot of quarterback coaches and co-ordinators," said Pierce. "Coach Crowton has played the game. He understands the position, he knows how the quarterback mind works.
"He loves the game. He loves studying defence and then builds his offence around that. How can you not be excited about that?"
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