December 5, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Winnipeg Blue Bombers general manager Joe Mack was asked Thursday to rate his team's off-season progress thus far.
"I actually think we're a little further ahead right now than I thought we'd be," Mack told the Free Press.
And that was before the club announced Friday morning their biggest move of the off-season so far -- the signing of all-star defensive back Jonathan Hefney to a new contract.
Hefney, an East Division all-star in 2012, would have become a free agent Feb. 15 if the Bombers had not locked him down. Re-signing him was regarded as a top priority this winter.
And so unlike last winter when the Bombers lost their most important free agent -- offensive lineman Brendon LaBatte, to Saskatchewan -- Mack has now locked down the single most consistent player on either side of the ball for the Bombers the last four seasons.
With the exception of a brief stint with the Detroit Lions during the 2010 season, Hefney has never missed a game for the Bombers since he originally signed with Winnipeg in 2009. He's been an East Division all-star in all three of his complete seasons.
"I love being in Winnipeg. It's a great city," Hefney said in a conference call Friday afternoon. "You don't usually get the love I've seen in Tennessee coming out of college and in high school. And when I came to Winnipeg, I felt like it was the same environment. You can't miss out on that too much.
"I love my teammates, I love the DBs I play with -- that's pretty much what the signing was all about."
Hefney said yet another disappointing season -- the Bombers have missed the playoffs in three of the past four years while making it to one Grey Cup -- did not dissuade him from returning.
"I've been down that road before and there's nothing like getting to that Grey Cup and playing that game," said Hefney. "And I know we were a couple games away, beating a couple more teams, and we could have been in that same position as Toronto," said Hefney.
The Argos finished the 2012 regular season at just 9-9, but ran the table in the post-season to win the Grey Cup. The Bombers finished 6-12 in 2012.
Hefney, 27, led the Bombers with 74 tackles in 2012 and also added four fumble recoveries, a sack and an interception.
Hefney said he was hopeful he might get an NFL workout this off-season but nothing immediately came along and he decided to "just let it go...
"Something might come up again -- you never know what might happen. But at the same time, right now I'm at peace and happy with the decision I've made."
Hefney is the fifth potential free agent the Bombers have re-signed this winter, leaving the club with six potential free agents remaining -- slotback Clarence Denmark, defensive linemen Bryant Turner, Fernand Kashama and Jason Vega, linebacker Marcellus Bowman and defensive back Deon Beasley.
Both Vega and Bowman are believed to have already had NFL workouts this winter and while he refused to specify any names, Mack said he's resigned himself that his team might lose some talent this winter to the NFL.
"We'll watch how that plays out," said Mack. "There's a good chance we could lose one or two of those guys, which would be a credit to them. It'd be disappointing, but that's just the nature of the beast for us right now."
Meanwhile, Bombers head coach Tim Burke said this week that he could have a new secondary coach in place as early as next week. Burke said a formal offer has been extended to the team's favoured candidate and he has two other candidates waiting in the wings if they cannot close a deal with the first one.
Burke said he has also requested the authority to hire a dedicated running backs coach for the upcoming season -- something the Bombers haven't had recently -- but he's still waiting to hear if there's room in the team's budget.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2013 C6