BRADENTON, Fla. -- It's fitting Marcel Bellefeuille, who's had to overcome obstacles and long odds all his life, has emerged as one of the lone survivors of the purge that followed the disastrous 2013 Winnipeg Blue Bombers season.
Bellefeuille, who grew up on the meanest streets of Ottawa and witnessed a murder when he was just a child, survived a bloodletting of a much different kind this past winter when he emerged, along with receivers coach Markus Howell, as the only members of the Bombers coaching staff in 2013 to be invited back for this season.
Surviving is one thing, thriving is quite another. One of the main questions at Bombers mini-camp this week has been whether Bellefeuille, who inherited a mess and never really found traction when he took over as Winnipeg's offensive co-ordinator midway through the 2013 season, can finally get the ball moving in 2014, now that he's had an off-season to build the Bombers offence to his specifications and in his own image.
"There's a few differences this year," Bellefeuille said this week. "Number one, I'm part of something that's fresh and new -- and that's the whole organization, not just us offensively. That's exciting.
"And number two, it's nice to start off fresh and new, but to also have a little bit of experience understanding the type of players we finished the season with and start the process of teaching. And hopefully, what we started at the end of last year will spring us forward a little quicker.
"And the third thing that's positive is that it's nice being able to spend an off-season figuring out what we want to do and making sure we have everything implemented so that we're flexible."
After overseeing a revolving door at starting quarterback last season, Bellefeuille had that decision made for him during the off-season when the Bombers front office went out and signed Drew Willy and newly installed head coach Mike O'Shea promptly declared Willy the team's starter in 2014.
While that decision was made for Bellefeuille, the defensive background of O'Shea -- a former longtime linebacker and special teams player in the CFL -- and the fact he is a rookie head coach will likely mean Bellefeuille will have lots of rope to run the Bombers offence 2014.
The thing about rope, however, is you can use it to harness power or you can use it to hang yourself. While Bellefeuille largely got a pass in 2013 after inheriting the quagmire that was former offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton's handiwork, this year's offence is going to be all on him.
Bellefeuille insists, however, no one should doubt the large shadow O'Shea will cast over the entire team.
"One thing coach O'Shea is good at is he has a good overall understanding of the game in general and what he wants. And that's something we hammered out during the interview phase last year -- what he'd like to see and what I'd like to do.
"And those things mesh well."
Bellefeuille says he's been pleased with the work of his quarterbacks -- Willy, second-year Bombers backup Max Hall and newcomers Brian Brohm and Robert Marve.
At the end of the day, this team is going to sink or swim on the arm of Willy, who the Bombers have pinned their 2014 season on despite a professional resumé that boasts just four previous starts, all with his former team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Bellefeuille says Willy has all the raw materials to be a starter in the CFL. "All the tools are there without question. The ability, the ability to prepare -- not just physically but mentally. And so now, he just has to do the work and put it all together."