The future of quarterback Buck Pierce, who started and finished just two games in an injury-riddled 2012 season, is the biggest single question mark facing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers as they head into the off-season.
While it's unclear who will be the starter in 2013, head coach Tim Burke said Sunday that one thing is already clear. "I would say there will be competition for the starting position at quarterback."
With a 19-11 victory Saturday afternoon over the Montreal Alouettes in the final professional football game ever to be played at Canad Inns Stadium, the Bombers finished the 2012 CFL season at 6-12 and, for the third time in four years, missed the playoffs.
Pierce and the rest of his teammates spent Sunday cleaning out their lockers and Pierce -- who finished the season on the injured list with a banged-up shoulder -- met with reporters to discuss the season that was and how he sees his immediate future in Winnipeg.
Here's an edited transcript:
Reporter: QB is going to be the biggest question mark in the off-season. Do you expect to be back?
Pierce: "I don't know. Every off-season is different. Obviously the way the season went for me and where we left this year, there's going to be changes. I hope I'm still a part of that. I hope to still play football and I think I can still play football. I'm open to whatever they want to do at that spot. But I'm planning on being back and that's where my mind is at this moment."
Reporter: Would you consider playing here, or anywhere else, in any capacity other than starter?
Pierce: "I'm all for helping the organization. I want to see us be successful and I want to put us in the best possible position to be successful. Obviously that's with me healthy and out there winning games. But I'm open to anything that they want to discuss and we'll go from there."
Reporter: Make the case why you should still be the starter next year.
Pierce: "Well, you know, when I'm healthy I win ball games. That's what it is. The thing is this last season I was injured way too much and we lost way too many games. I guess you could make the case I was a big factor in our record this season because I wasn't on the football field. So I can see both sides of it. I can see the side where, 'Let's do some things to keep Buck upright and he'll win some football games for us.'"
Reporter: Do you see yourself as part of the solution or the problem going forward?
Pierce: "I see myself as part of the solution -- hundred per cent. I don't see my presence being a negative thing. Every quarterback deals with stuff like this. Every team has to go through adversity. When the starter goes down, someone has to come up and step into that role and fill that void. It's like that everywhere -- you have to have depth in all these things. I'm a leader on this team, I'm a leader in this organization and that's what I will continue to be."
Reporter: Would things be easier if some of the younger quarterbacks were closer to your level of play?
Pierce: "Obviously, they had lots of opportunities, probably more opportunities than most backups would ever get in those positions. I think they did some good things. It didn't always add up to wins but I thought they showed a lot of promise."
Reporter: This is the first time you haven't said definitively at the end of a season that you will be the starter next year.
Pierce: "Obviously, that's my mindset. My mindset is get healthy, come back and be the guy. That's my mindset. (But) I understand the situation that they're going to have to do something to add depth or something might happen. But my mindset is I want to play. I feel like I'm the best chance we got. I feel like when I'm healthy and out there playing, I'm as good as anybody. So don't get me wrong... I still have every ounce of confidence in myself and what I can do."
Reporter: Do you feel like you're due to get a break?
Pierce: "I feel like, 'What else can I do?' I truly feel like I do everything right, I do everything in my power to keep my body healthy and live my life the right way. And sometimes it just doesn't work out for you. This was a year I took a lot of hits in situations I don't feel I should have taken hits."
Reporter: Should the league do more to protect quarterbacks?
Pierce: "They say they are. But in the heat of the moment, it's still football and guys are still going to get hit, guys are still going to get beat up out there."
Reporter: But your desire to play is still the same, right?
Pierce: "A hundred percent. But I'm being real too. I understand the situations that I'm going to be put in."
Reporter: Are you just unlucky?
Pierce: "Yeah, I guess. I get asked that a lot. I walk down the street and people say, 'Hey Buck, don't get hurt, stay healthy.' And I'm like, 'Thanks, I appreciate that.' It's not like I'm trying to go out there and get hurt or anything. It was just the nature of the beast this season. Look at the past. Look at 2010 when I dislocated my (elbow). And then you look at last year and then you look at this year. It's just this year was like 2010 for me, where I had to miss a lot of ball games. It's been tough, but I'm looking to bounce back like I did last year."
Reporter: The geniuses out there all say you have to get rid of the ball quicker.
Pierce: "Yeah, they've played the position, I'm sure. Everybody always has their comments. We get rid of the ball actually pretty quick, honestly. And we do quite a bit of things in this offence to protect the quarterbacks. You see where I got hit a lot this year, it was four-man rushes, they weren't even blitzing anybody."
Reporter: So is that saying the offensive line needs to...
Pierce: "I didn't say anything. No, we all got to improve and we've all got to do better."
Reporter: So when you said earlier you got hit too much, is that late hits and maybe not getting rid of the ball soon enough and...
Pierce: "You look at the Toronto game that we won in Toronto. I got hit more in that game than a lot of people get hit all year."
Reporter: And those were like three-step drops.