Is Henoc Muamba ready to be a starting middle linebacker in the CFL?
That's one of the juicier storylines as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head into their annual mini camp at Canad Inns Stadium this week. Muamba, the top pick in the 2011 CFL draft, will be one of roughly 30 players on hand for the three-day camp, as the club takes advantage of the off-season workout window allotted by the league's collective bargaining agreement.
"CFL teams go two directions with these camps," Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice said Monday. "Some use it as a free agent camp and some use it as a chance to see who their depth guys are. If you lose a starter to injury, this gives an extended look at the back-ups. I'm treating it as a chance to look at 'our' team.
"That doesn't mean we don't want to evaluate guys -- we'll certainly be doing a lot of that."
This expected evaluation brings us to Muamba, the 23-year-old dynamo who may not see a better chance to show the coaching staff he's ready to assume a key position in the middle of the Winnipeg defence.
The Bombers have an opening for a Canadian starter this season and while many observers have circled both the middle linebacker and the defensive line as potential areas of opportunity, the hope inside the club is that Muamba can rise up to the next level this season.
"Obviously, we have limited numbers this week and we can't do everything we want to, but I want Henoc to understand what it's going to take to start in that (middle linebacker) spot," LaPolice said. "He'll get a lot of one-on-one time with (new linebackers coach) Chip Garber, as well.
"We drafted him to be more than just a special teams player for us."
Translation: The Bombers expect a lot more out of Muamba this season.
The St. Francis Xavier product had 15 special teams tackles and a touchdown in 11 games last season. When asked if he's ready to assume a bigger role -- the starting middle linebacker gig that Bomber management envisions -- Muamba wouldn't bite.
This mini camp is the start of the process for him; a chance to continue his growth as a pro.
"I've always tried to live by the idea that you can only control what you can control," said Muamba, who has been training with his brother Cauchy in Euless, Tex. this off-season. "All I can do is play and compete like I know I can and everything else will take care of itself."
"This is what the camps are for. I'm going to go in with a good mentality and continue to build off what I did last year."
Veteran Pierre-Luc Labbe is the only other Canadian middle linebacker on the roster. He started some games last season and will be given every opportunity to compete for the job. Marcellus Bowman and Clint Kent remain on top of the depth chart at the other two linebacker positions.
The unknown variable in this middle linebacker quandary: Joe Lobendahn.
The hard-nosed import was playing some of his best football when he went down with a torn ACL midway through last season, but won't be attending camp this week. The club says Lobendahn is being held out by the training staff for precautionary reasons.
Others held out of the camp due to medical issues include import defensive backs Johnny Sears and Brandon Stewart, as well as non-import running back Carl Volny, who continues to rehab a knee injury.
Mini camp starts Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.
A quick glance at the annual Blue Bombers mini camp (participation is voluntary):
Canad Inns Stadium. The workouts are open to the public. Fans are asked to enter the stadium through the Bomber Store located on the west side of the building.
The three-day camp starts Wednesday and ends on Friday. Workouts start at 10:30 a.m. daily and should finish up at around noon.
The Bombers expect to add a name or two to the roster but as of Monday, the following are scheduled to attend:
Quarterbacks -- Buck Pierce, Alex Brink, Joey Elliott, Justin Goltz
Running backs -- Chris Garrett, Chad Simpson, Anthony Woodson, Jordan Matechuk
Wide receivers -- Kito Poblah, Clarence Denmark, Cassidy Doneff, Rory Kolhert, Cory Watson, Kurt Adams
Offensive linemen -- Chris Greaves, Chris Kowalczuk, Steve Morley, Justin Sorenson, Paul Swiston, Glenn January
Linebackers -- Pierre-Luc Labbe, Henoc Muamba, Marcellus Bowman, Dustin Doe
Defensive backs -- Jonathan Hefney, Deon Beasley, Jovon Johnson, Darrel Pasco