Blue Bomber Report Record: 3–15–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bombers optimistic despite bad vibes of pre-season

Fans hoping for best, expecting worst

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A big part of soothing fans' nerves will be keeping Buck upright, but as this pre-season game against Toronto suggests -- when Pierce was hammered three times -- the Bombers have some work to do on protecting him.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

A big part of soothing fans' nerves will be keeping Buck upright, but as this pre-season game against Toronto suggests -- when Pierce was hammered three times -- the Bombers have some work to do on protecting him. Photo Store

If the Winnipeg Blue Bombers could pass along a message to their fan base -- that increasingly frustrated fan base -- it might be this:

Don't write off a movie just because the trailer sucked.

So as the Bombers gathered Sunday morning for their first post-training camp practice, there was a clear-cut attempt to steer clear of any discussion about the two exhibition nightmares that saw them mauled 76-6.

Instead, all the chatter was about the season opener this week at home against the Montreal Alouettes.

Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and all that jazz.

"We're worried about ourselves," said quarterback Buck Pierce when asked if he could sense the bad vibe folks have about this team right now. "People can think whatever they want to think. Everybody's going to have their opinions and they're entitled to their opinions. We're athletes and we have the responsibility to go out there and perform for our fans and our community. We represent not just us, but them.

"We do feel it, but you worry about yourself. You worry about the guys in the room. You can't worry about what other people think, the oddsmakers and these negative comments. That's for them to make. It's our job to fix the problems and go out there and play well."

Yeah, that sure as heck would help. And certainly the most effective way to eliminate the memories of the 6-12 stink bomb that was last year -- and the stench of the pre-season -- is to start 2013 off by bursting out of the starting gates.

Pierce pointed to three or four different factors that has him optimistic about the '13 season: the maturity level of a team that hasn't changed much since last season; the fact they are relatively healthy heading to the opener; the year under offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton and the offensive chemistry that has developed under his watch.

Still, that's a hard sell for the club's faithful until real games are played because they are intangibles. This remains, after all, a 6-12 squad that hasn't changed much in the off-season and was thoroughly shellacked in the pre-season.

"We're not really listening to that or paying attention to what is being said about us," said safety Cauchy Muamba, one of the few new faces this season. "We know what we're capable of doing. We also know that what happened last week is not a display of our defence or offence.

"We're on the right path. On defence, we're young, we're fast, we're athletic. We're going to be good.

"Come Thursday we're going to be good, we're going to be fine."

Now, while it's easy to question head coach Tim Burke's decision to take a collection of newcomers into Guelph last week -- a 52-0 loss tends to bring out the critics, pre-season or not -- there is a belief in the room in the boss' approach.

It's not heavy-handed by any means, but it is strict. For example, there was Burke at the start of practice Sunday, jotting down names of the stragglers.

"Congratulations," Burke said to one player, "You've just earned your first fine of the season."

Later, Burke said, "It's amazing how they weren't late during training camp, but now they're late. Some of those guys, one of the coaches let them out of the meeting late. I just told (the assistant coaches) 'Next time I'm fining them and if it's your fault they're going to be really mad at you.' "

The release of Jonathan Hefney last week also sent a clear message to the troops and hammered home who is in charge. Asked Sunday if some of the attitude/chemistry issues from last year have been removed, veteran Terrence Edwards offered up a revealing answer.

"As a lot of people know, the release of Clint Kent last year put a damper on the team because that was unexpected," he said. "I don't think that was an issue this year, it's not an issue with Jonathan Hefney being released.

"The guys are in the right mind frame right now. Those are our friends at the end of the day, but we've still got a job to do."

All of this won't exactly have fans gleefully bursting through the turnstiles for Thursday's home opener. The Bombers, currently in a Grey-Cup drought that dates back to 1990, are also 10-1 long shots entering 2013.

And none of that is going to go away until they begin silencing their growing number of critics.

"I'm sure after coming off of last year and the two pre-season games nobody expects us to do anything," said Jovon Johnson. "So it's our job to go out and shock the world."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 24, 2013 C1

History

Updated on Monday, June 24, 2013 at 6:51 AM CDT: replaces photo, changes headline

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