Blue Bomber Report Record: 3–15–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue had relatively uneventful off-season, FOR BETTER OR WORSE

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It's been an exceptionally eventful off-season in the CFL this winter, with new head coaches in Hamilton, Toronto, Regina and Vancouver and projected new starting quarterbacks in Hamilton, Toronto, Calgary (sort of) and Edmonton, on top of the usual litany of swapped jerseys.

Here's a look at the highlights -- and lowlights -- of Winnipeg's off-season:

The most significant off-season move the Winnipeg Blue Bombers made was... the one they didn't make.

For all the hand-wringing about Brendon LaBatte leaving and all the drama about Jovon Johnson staying, the single most important thing that happened to the Bombers this off-season was that defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke didn't get the head coach job in Hamilton and will return in 2012 as the Bombers DC.

In his first season with the Bombers in 2011, Burke took what was a good defence the season before and shaped it into the single most dominating defensive unit in the country last season. And if you're thinking that was just a coincidence -- that Burke just happened to stumble into the right place at the right time -- consider this:

The defensive co-ordinator of the East Division champions for the past four years in a row has been Burke, last year with Winnipeg and for three seasons before that in Montreal. Yes, Anthony Calvillo played a role in getting Montreal to those Grey Cups in 2008, 2009 and 2010. But so did Burke -- the Montreal defence was Top 3 in 16 CFL categories in 2008, gave up a team record of just 324 points in 2009 and was Top 3 in 14 defensive categories in 2010.

That's no fluke and the Bombers are very, very lucky Hamilton chose George Cortez over Burke this winter as their new head coach.

The most significant move the Bombers did make this winter was... off the field, not on it

Sacking former offensive co-ordinator Jamie Barresi was a no-brainer after the anemic performance of the Bombers offence in 2011. But it took some doing to land someone with the football resumé of Gary Crowton as Barresi's replacement.

Crowton's coaching resumé stretches back 30 years, but here's what you need to know about the guy who will lead Winnipeg offensively in 2012:

-- He was the offensive co-ordinator of a little outfit called the Chicago Bears when the Bears set a franchise record in 1999 for passing yards. A franchise record for passing yards. In Chicago. Think about that.

-- He was the head coach at Brigham Young University in 2001 when the Cougars led the entire nation in total offence and scoring per game. The entire nation. Again, think about it.

-- He was the offensive co-ordinator at LSU in 2007 when the Tigers won a national championship and set school records for points in a season (541), points per game (38.6), touchdowns scored (64) and total yards (6,152). School records. At a football powerhouse like LSU. Again, ponder that for just a second.

There is, however, one glaring thing that is lacking from Crowton's resumé as he takes over the O.C. duties here -- he has absolutely no CFL experience. None. Everything Crowton's done -- and yeah, it's a lot -- has been in four-down, 11-man football on a shorter, narrower field.

How quick can he adjust? The entire 2012 Bombers season rides on the answer to that question.

They better get better... or else they're definitely going to get worse.

The Bombers finished first in the East in 2011 with a paltry 10-8 record and despite going 3-7 in their last 10 games, indicative of an East Division last season that simply wasn't very good. Well, the East just got a whole lot better.

In Toronto, they've now got an offensive genius in Scott Milanovich (see Alouettes, Montreal, 2008-11) as their head coach and a future Hall of Famer in Ricky Ray as their quarterback. In Hamilton, they've now got an offensive genius in George Cortez (see Stampeders, Calgary, 2007-09) as their head coach and a future hall of famer in Henry Burris as their quarterback.

Think Burris, 36, and Ray, 32, are past their prime? Maybe they are. But it says here that even washed up Burris and Ray will be improvements on the men they replaced, Kevin Glenn and Steven Jyles, respectively. And before you go writing them off because of age, remember that Anthony Calvillo of Montreal will turn 40 this season, coming off a 2011 season that saw him named the East's Most Outstanding Player. Again.

The East got better over the winter. The Bombers will have to do the same just to keep pace.

Please cease tweeting, already.

A handful of Bombers players -- I'm looking at you in particular Jonathan Hefney -- have long pushed the boundaries of propriety on their Twitter accounts. Drug references and degrading, even misogynistic, references to women have raised some eyebrows for awhile, but mostly people looked the other way. Until this winter.

A pornographic photo Hefney tweeted earlier this month was so over the top, it screamed for a fine from the league -- and he got it. And some earlier public criticism of the club by Hefney -- yeah, you again -- and fellow defensive backs Deon Beasley and, more recently, Jovon Johnson, also earned a scolding from Bombers management.

Here's hoping for some plain old-fashioned common sense this season, 140 characters at a time.

The stadium construction delays won't matter years from now... but they definitely matter now.

Decades from now, when that signature stadium roofline that has caused so many construction delays is rightly regarded alongside the Esplanade Riel as one of the architectural icons of this city, no one's even going to remember that construction was a few months late.

But it's going to cause big headaches for the Bombers in 2012. For starters, they have to play their first four regular-season games on the road, including the first two against powerhouses in B.C. and Montreal respectively. Want to know how many times the Bombers have opened a regular season at 0-2 and gone on to play in the Grey Cup the same year? Never, that's how many.

Making matters worse, the Bombers are going to have to move at some point this summer, between when they hold training camp and at least one pre-season game -- and maybe a lot more -- at Canad Inns Stadium and when they finally and permanently move to their new Investors Group Field. Are you at your most productive when you're in the midst of a big transition? Exactly.

Free agents

they signed

Buck Pierce, QB

Joey Elliott, QB

Alex Brink, QB

Glenn January, OL

Steve Morley, OL

Andre Douglas, OL

Ian Logan, S

Brady Browne, S

Chris Cvetkovic, long snapper

Free agents they lost

Brendon LaBatte, OL

Greg Carr, WR

Free agents they allowed to walk

Don Oramasionwu, DL

Aaron Hargreaves, WR

Free agents who retired

Doug Brown, DL/living legend

Players who signed contract extensions

Jovon Johnson, CB

Kito Poblah, WR

Cory Watson, WR

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 31, 2012 C4

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