Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Big 3 has 'special' passion for game

Blue aim to make big strides in field position

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Details, especially those steeped in Canadiana, won't be overlooked in Bomberland this season. This more than anything else will be the immediate impetus behind more wins for Winnipeg.

The domestic products filling the CEO, GM and head coach positions aren't football geniuses. Or, at least, they haven't proven as much to this point.


But the three- down game has been imprinted on their DNA.

Their first language is Canadian football. They don't have to think through an answer to a question using American football as their base and then translate to CFL speak. They're fluent in rouge and Mosca and Lancaster. It's in their nature.

The importance of this distinction will show itself in game management and special teams more than anywhere else and it should be present immediately. Rookie head coach Mike O'Shea doesn't need a learning curve where the nuances of the CFL are concerned. He's lived them all his life. So, too, have GM Kyle Walters and CEO Wade Miller.

Three-down football is as much about field position as anything else. The kicking game and all facets of specials teams are priorities and the Blue Bombers should have a head start in these areas when one considers who is running the operation.

Miller is the CFL's all-time leader in special-teams tackles, Walters kept himself employed in the CFL with his special-teams acumen and O'Shea is among the best special-teams players the CFL has ever known.

If a player, no matter what position or passport, thinks he's going to take a pass on being involved on special teams, he won't last in Winnipeg. Not with this crew.

Take, for example, Wednesday's training camp session. Special teams coach Pat Tracey was explaining something on the field and O'Shea was watching like a hawk. Ten yards over was Walters taking notes, which he soon passed on. High above, watching in a luxury suite was Miller and later he too would offer a suggestion.

Welcome change

Too many cooks?

Maybe. But after the last couple of years watching short-order men trying to operate in what is supposed to be a gourmet setup, it's a welcome change.

Offence takes time to improve, especially with a young quarterback such as Drew Willy at the controls. Defence can improve quickly but talent is still key. Special teams, however, can change overnight.

Scheme, execution and commitment rule the day. The Bombers will have all three.

"There has to be a passion for special teams. These guys have it. Coach O'Shea and Mr. Walters, when they talk about special teams they get excited. They know the game can change on special teams. It motivates guys like me," said fullback and special teams fixture Michel-Pierre Pontbriand.

"Guys come here to make the team on offence or defence. But lots of us are backups and the best way we can contribute is on special teams. These guys, they make us feel important. Not through talking. Through what they believe. It's exciting."

O'Shea was a standout linebacker for a long time in the CFL but he always asked to be involved in special teams because it kept him on the field for more plays. It was a chance to play more football, which is really all O'Shea ever wanted to do.

Now he's coaching a team where his two immediate supervisors see things the same way.

"It has to have a trickle-down effect," said O'Shea. "Special teams are important to us. To Kyle and Wade and myself. The players will understand this and they'll be committed to playing special teams. There's no other way."

The Bombers won't have the best offence in the CFL this season and it's unlikely they'll have the top defence.

But there's no reason they can't be No. 1 in special teams.

Why not be special? It's a start. And a far better alternative to horrible. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 5, 2014 D1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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