If Tim Burke is bluffing, he's doing a very convincing job of it.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach once again on Thursday repeated that his team's veteran defensive backs will either improve this season or they will be looking for new jobs.
And yes, Burke confirmed Thursday, that includes the all-star duo of Jonathan Hefney and Jovon Johnson.
"That includes every guy in the secondary. That's just the way it's going to be," said Burke Thursday following the second day of a Bombers rookie training camp at Investors Group Field that includes a whopping nine defensive backs -- most of any position.
"We're either going to play better as a group or we're going to have a new group."
Burke's very public admonishment -- and the huge airlift of rookie DBs this spring -- illustrates just how far and how quickly the stock of the once vaunted Bombers secondary has fallen.
Considered the heart of the celebrated "Swaggerville" defence of 2011, the core secondary group of Ian Logan, Alex Suber, Brandon Stewart, Hefney and Johnson all struggled mightily at times during a 2012 season that saw opposing quarterbacks feast on a porous Bombers secondary.
Logan was released during the off-season to make way for the free agent signing of Cauchy Muamba and Burke has not hesitated this spring to suggest more changes could be on the way.
"Our secondary did not play well last year. We gave up way too many big plays and were terrible at man-coverage. So, those guys have to either get better or they're going to be gone," Burke said.
Now saying a guy like Johnson -- the most outstanding defensive player in the league just two years ago -- is on the bubble like everyone else is one thing. Finding someone who can actually do a better job is quite another.
So, is there a diamond in the rookie rough at camp this year?
If there is it might be Desia Dunn, a 24-year-old out of Fresno State who Burke singled out a couple times for his strong play during mini-camp late last month.
Dunn is a bit undersized at 5-9, but that will still allow him to see the top of Suber's head when the Bombers veteran arrives for full training camp on Sunday along with the rest of the vets.
Dunn says he has no illusions about the difficulty he's going to face trying to unseat a veteran in a league and country that are both foreign to him.
"It does seem like a daunting task," Dunn said Thursday after practice, "but I'm always in to compete, show off my skills and hopefully win a starting job.
"I'm not afraid to compete. I'd rather compete for a job than to have it handed right to me anyway. I'm taking on a task and I'm looking forward to it."
While the magnitude of the airlift of secondary help is extraordinary this year and a direct result of last year's failings, Burke noted it is in the nature of secondaries that coaches are always looking to churn personnel.
"Let's say we went to the Grey Cup and even won it last year -- I still think that every year you're trying to bring in some guys who are going to make you better," said Burke, who has retained a keen interest in the secondary even after he took over the head coach's job last summer.
"You're always trying to replace who you think is the weakest of your defensive backs with somebody new."