Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A lot to like in new Blue

Of course it was a meaningless game, but signs are good

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Drawing any concrete conclusions from a pre-season game is bit of a fool's game, akin to declaring a movie an Oscar candidate based solely on the 90-second trailer.

And so if Winnipeg Blue Bombers' long-suffering faithful were trying to find hope from Monday night's dress rehearsal 24-22 loss to a Toronto Argonauts squad minus Ricky Ray, a warning:

For every gem like American Hustle, there are a dozen duds that have patrons hurling popcorn at the screen after a couple of scenes.

All that said, we had a seat in the press box and some space to fill in the Sports section of this grand, ol' newspaper. So, for what it's worth, here's what jumped out -- the good and the bad -- from our first peek at the creation Mike O'Shea, Kyle Walters & Co. are piecing together here for the 2014 Canadian Football League season:

-- First, the quarterbacks because, well, it's always about the quarterbacks in the CFL. Drew Willy, declared the club's starter from the moment he signed in February, played 26 minutes in the first half, completing six of 12 passes for 108 yards and a TD strike to Julian Feoli-Gudino. He makes quick decisions and, as evidenced on a 47-yard toss to Clarence Denmark, isn't afraid to let loose and let his receivers work in traffic. He looked most comfortable moving around the pocket and, get this, actually slid to the turf when he did take off and run for a 16-yard gain.

As for the other pivots: Max Hall, who has had a good camp, completed just three of seven passes for 24 yards, Brian Brohm was just three of nine for 29 yards, but Robert Marve jumped off the page in his short stint at the controls, bringing an energy to the offence and hitting Donavon Kemp for a seven-yard TD that pulled the Bombers to within 24-22.

-- If Will Ford wasn't already looking over his shoulder, he may want to start. Paris Cotton flashed some dynamic skill in his stint in the Bomber backfield with six carries for 39 yards -- the most impressive a six-yard run on a second-and-four from the Argo 12-yard line that set up the Feoli-Gudino score. Nic Grigsby had 20 yards on seven carries, but 18 of that came on one run.

-- Late last week during practice it was hard not to hear new defensive co-ordinator Gary Etcheverry tearing a strip off DB Marty Markett, his voice loud enough to rattle the beams holding up the Jumbotrons. But Markett was outstanding against the Argos, leading the defence with five tackles and forcing a fumble that was scooped up by Bruce Johnson.

-- Hard not to be impressed by the Bomber kickers, Lirim Hajrullahu and Brett Maher, who were a perfect three-for-three in field goals and they weren't chip shots, either. Hajrullahu, the Western product, hit from 43, while Maher -- the import from Nebraska -- connected from 47 and 35. Both had punting averages of better than 42 yards, too. The only man unhappy with those numbers? Incumbent punter Mike Renaud, who has missed the last few days with a stiff back.

-- Trotting out an ongoing concern: Who are the starting seven Canadians on this team? The Bombers started three Americans on the offensive line -- Glenn January, Dan Knapp and Jarvis Jones -- and that's unlikely when the real games start. But Cory Watson is fighting a hamstring, the depth behind Jake Thomas is iffy and Donovan Alexander missed the game with a bum ankle. That leaves Chris Greaves, Steve Morley, Rory Kohlert and either Patrick Neufeld or Matthias Goossen to provide the homegrown content. In other words, this is an issue that won't soon go away.

-- So, in the end, what do fans take from this one? There was a lot to like from the home side, actually. And remember this: A year ago this club lost both pre-season games by a combined score of 76-6. Small steps, Bomber fans. Small steps.

 Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 10, 2014 D1

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