December 8, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
THEY are the kind of off-season transactions that will bring nothing more than a collective shrug of the shoulders across the CFL.
No, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' announcement that they have signed slotback Cory Watson and offensive lineman Chris Greaves to contract extensions are hardly going to shake up the ol' neighbourhood.
But when a football club is coming off a season in which it fired its head coach, suffered some soul-crushing losses and missed the playoffs for the third time in four years, they are absolutely critical in patching the road back to respectability.
Just as important are these factors:
-- The signings were actually registered with CFL headquarters before the calendar turned to 2013, meaning the signing bonuses will count against the 2012 cap;
-- Watson and Greaves are -- debate among yourselves -- right there atop the list of the Bombers' seven Canadian starters and;
-- They are both products of the 2010 draft, both Bomber picks and both eager to stay true to the club that has developed them into players, many in the CFL believe, of the cusp of stardom.
"I'm a part of something that is building," said Watson, who has signed his second extension in as many years. "I've tasted something with a group of guys that I came in with that are still here and we believe we can put this thing together.
"There is no doubt this is where I wanted to be. Winnipeg has become like a second home to me. I'm familiar with the surroundings, with the people. I couldn't see myself anywhere else."
And the Bombers didn't want him to be tempted to leave when his contract expired, especially after watching him morph into one of the CFL's most physical receivers.
Watson, who turns 30 in March, is attempting to put a horrendous 2012 campaign stained by injuries in the rear-view mirror. The 6-3, 213-pound Concordia product was coming off a solid 2011 in which he pulled in 69 passes for 793 yards and one TD.
But a hamstring injury robbed him of a month early in 2012 and an ACL injury shut him down for good in Week 14, limiting his totals to 35 receptions for 344 yards and one score.
The Bombers not only missed his offensive numbers, but the physical presence he brought to the attack as one of the CFL's fiercest blockers.
"Ever since I started playing football I've enjoyed hitting. I probably should be playing defence," said Watson with a chuckle. "You can't play football without it and I can't wait to get back at it again."
Now, while Watson's absence last year was obvious, what Greaves was able to do in the trenches didn't go unnoticed by Bomber management either.
A converted defensive lineman who didn't make the switch until his first pro camp in 2010 Greaves, who doesn't turn 24 until next week, is the kind of talent that could anchor the Bomber O-line for the next decade. The 6-5, 306-pound former Western star started all 18 games at left guard last year after grabbing the gig with three regular-season contests remaining in 2011.
And he's admittedly still figuring out the job along the way.
"I've learned a lot since that first camp," said Greaves.
"At first I was just trying to get the fundamentals and proper footwork. I wasn't very good and it's tough to learn from scratch, especially when you're going up against professionals every day. But I'm glad they showed patience with me, especially (O-line) coach (Pat) DelMonaco, and put in the time with me.
"Now I can pay it back."
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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 3, 2013 D3