Blue Bomber Report Record: 3–15–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bombers have much to do before opener

Very uneven effort put in against Tabbies

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Well, that was quick. Maybe even a bit too quick.

Nineteen days ago today, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers took to the field as a unit for the first time in their 2012 training camp.

The Bombers had 76 men on their roster that day. By the end of today, those 76 men will have been trimmed to a 46-man regular season roster, with a seven-man practice roster and injury list likely coming Saturday.

And then, somehow between now and next Friday when the Bombers take on the B.C. Lions in Vancouver to open the regular season, head coach Paul LaPolice is going to have to sculpt that crew into a game-ready bunch capable of competing against a Lions team some are already saying is even better than the juggernaut that rolled through the second half of the 2011 season almost untouched en route to a Grey Cup win over Winnipeg.

A very uneven Winnipeg effort in a 26-25 loss to the Ticats on Wednesday suggests there is much work still to be done. And yet for reasons unknown, LaPolice decided this week to make his preparation window even smaller by having no practice on Thursday, today or Saturday.

It was one of a couple strange decisions from LaPolice this week. In another head scratcher, the coach declared running back Chris Garrett his starting tailback for Week 1 in Vancouver despite not having at that point even seen Garrett in a game so far this season -- and despite having brought in some serious prospects to challenge Garrett for the job.

And then, when LaPolice finally did decide to give Garrett some game action Wednesday night, Garrett carried the ball just twice for 19 yards in the first half and didn't catch a pass before LaPolice sat him right back down.

And so with that, a man who has had just two runs from scrimmage this year is going to start at tailback next Friday behind an inexperienced Bombers offensive line and facing a B.C. defence that was second to only Winnipeg in ferocity last year.

And, oh yeah, Garrett is going to get the start in a new small-ball offence of screens and swing passes in which the tailback will be expected, presumably, to play a key and central role.

If you can come up with an explanation for that one, let me know. I'd have asked LaPolice about it myself, but he refused to meet with the media on Thursday for the customary scrum he usually does the day after games.

Bombers QB Buck Pierce, who went 5-for-15 for 154 yards against Hamilton, noted in the locker-room after the game that installing a new offence is a slow and arduous process, suggesting that any Bomber fans who were expecting to suddenly see Buck transform into Joe Montana under Bill Walsh in Week 1 are probably being a bit naive.

The good news with Garrett, of course, is that he's a proven commodity based on what he did last year. The Bombers know he can play in the CFL and he will presumably find his rhythm sooner or later.

The same certainty cannot be ascribed to the Bombers offensive line, however. The hogs were the biggest question mark coming into training camp after the off-season departures of veteran guard Brendon LaBatte and centre Obby Khan -- and 19 days later, there's not many answers and even more questions due to injuries that have sidelined starting tackles Andre Douglas and Glenn January for the better part of camp.

All of which is not to say nothing has been resolved during this training camp. Management seems set, for instance, on a completely revamped defensive line with Jason Vega and Kenny Mainor on the ends and Bryant Turner and Dorion Smith in the middle. Winnipeg registered just three sacks in two pre-season games -- the Bombers gave up 10 -- but the feeling is that what the front-four this year has given up with the off-season departures of veterans Odell Willis and Doug Brown, they've made up for with the deeper talent of an all-American line.

At linebacker, Henoc Muamba is probably the future at the middle position but it will be Pierre-Luc Labbe who will start the 2012 season, just as he ended 2011.

The secondary is back intact and looks to be fine, as does a receiving corps of Terrence Edwards, Kito Poblah, Clarence Denmark and, when he returns from a hamstring injury, Cory Watson.

It's still tough to say who will hold down the fifth receiver spot, although both Kurt Adams and Chris Matthews look like capable replacements for Greg Carr. The depth at Canadian receiver will almost certainly come from Rory Kohlert and Jade Etienne, in that order.

And finally, the backup QB job was Alex Brink's to lose coming into camp and it appears he's done enough to keep the No. 2 spot ahead of Joey Elliott, who had a courageous camp in coming back from a devastating knee injury last season.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2012 C4

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