Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce says he intends to answer his critics this coming season on the football field — a place he admittedly visited far too seldom in 2012.
A day after Bombers head coach Tim Burke anointed the oft-injured Pierce as Winnipeg's starting quarterback heading into training camp this spring, Pierce was asked during a news conference Tuesday what reassurances he can offer fans concerned about his durability heading into 2013.
"I don't say anything to reassure them. I have to go out there and prove it," Pierce told reporters. "I feel the pressure, I know they're concerned. They want me behind centre, but they want me behind centre week in and week out.
"And there's nobody who feels that pressure more than me — believe me that. And there's nothing more I want to do than be the guy for them and help them get to where we want to get.
"I feel blessed and excited to be going into a new season with the confidence of the organization behind me."
While Pierce has been declared the nominal starter heading into training camp - ahead of former fourth-stringer Justin Goltz and newly acquired CFL rookies Chase Clement and Max Hall - Pierce told reporters he knows he will still have to win the job this spring.
"I'm excited to get the opportunity again," said Pierce, "but it's still one of those things where you have to be the best at the end of camp.
"I feel young, fresh - I feel good right now. I'm relishing the opportunity in front of me. It's going to be a challenging task to put all of the stuff behind me, but I've always had a way of turning those negatives into positives."
Pierce missed most of the 2012 season with a litany of injuries that knocked him out of the lineup and there was serious speculation this winter about whether the Bombers might simply cut him.
But Monday the team announced they had decided instead to jettison experienced Bombers backups Joey Elliott and Alex Brink and give the untested Goltz, Hall and Clement a chance to audition for the QB job in 2013.
With that decision made, Pierce automatically becomes the favourite to retain his starting job to start the 2013 season, although whether Pierce will still have it by season's end remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, whatever happens between Pierce and the Bombers, it would appear Pierce is likely to retain strong roots in Winnipeg for the foreseeable future. Pierce, who already owns a house in Winnipeg, told reporters on Tuesday that he got engaged this winter to his longtime girlfriend Lori, a native Winnipegger who works for WestJet.
Pierce said the couple intends to wed in May 2014.
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Also on Tuesday, the Bombers announced they have released veteran defensive tackle Brandon Collier and signed import defensive linemen Anthony DeGrate and Marquis Frazier.
Collier registered 12 tackles and two sacks in 10 games with the Bombers last season.
DeGrate (6-1, 251, Texas A&M) was on the Bombers practice roster late last season. He most recently played with the Pittsburgh Power of the Arena Football League, where he recorded 39 tackles, 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in two seasons.
Frazier (6-3, 287, SMU) recorded 142 tackles, 10 sacks and an interception during his collegiate career. He was All-Conference USA in his senior year at SMU.