Blue Bomber Report Record: 6–3–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Buck's rusty, but healthy

Burke to keep QB on bench until June 27 opener

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Winnipeg quarterback Buck Pierce is sacked by Toronto linebacker Bryan Payton during first-quarter action at Investors Group Field Wednesday night.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Winnipeg quarterback Buck Pierce is sacked by Toronto linebacker Bryan Payton during first-quarter action at Investors Group Field Wednesday night. Photo Store

Consider the following:

If Winnipeg head coach Tim Burke carries through with his plan, Blue Bombers QB Buck Pierce will line up behind centre during the opening game of the 2013 CFL season June 27 having thrown just five passes in the pre-season -- one of them to a Toronto Argonauts defender.

Burke said Wednesday following the Bombers' 24-6 pre-season loss to the Argos that Pierce's brief appearance in the first quarter -- he played just three series, went 0-for-5 with an interception and was hit three times -- will be his only game action until he lines up against the Montreal Alouettes in the regular-season opener for both teams at Investors Group Field.

Burke was adamant Wednesday night -- and he repeated it to reporters on Thursday afternoon -- that he is comfortable Pierce will be ready to go versus Montreal and would prefer to use Winnipeg's final pre-season game Thursday against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to take a look at the three men who are vying to be Pierce's backup -- Justin Goltz, Max Hall and Chase Clement.

If that prospect alarms you, well, you're probably not the only one. If first impressions are lasting ones, then the one left behind by the 2013 debut of Pierce was quite a bit like the last impression we had of him in 2012 -- ineffective and far too often lying on his back.

Burke admitted Pierce wasn't sharp in his 2013 debut, but said he's not changing his mind about sitting the oft-injured QB for the final pre-season test in which the Bombers will be playing mostly rookies.

"(Pierce) could play better," said Burke. "But I just want to make sure he gets to the first game. He'll get plenty of reps in practice. And I'd rather have him come out for the first game and maybe be a little rusty then to have him get hurt in a pre-season game."

So is that the issue then, Burke was asked -- that the Pierce the Bombers have decided to make their starting quarterback is so fragile the club would rather have him rusty than risk getting him injured?

Not so, said Burke, noting most CFL teams opt to play their designated starting quarterback just once in the pre-season.

Which is true. But it's also true just three series during a game is not very much opportunity for Pierce to try out the brand-new offence Gary Crowton designed for him in the off-season.

Burke seems determined it will have to be enough and Pierce will simply have to learn the offence while under live fire at the end of the month against the Alouettes.

Burke said veteran Bombers fourth-stringer Justin Goltz will likely get the entire first half versus the Ticats to show if he can finally step into the backup role, while CFL rookies Max Hall and Chase Clement will share the second-half duties.

Burke might be criticized for being overly cautious with Pierce this pre-season, but he is not entirely without justification.

While the Bombers have maintained all spring their new offence is designed specifically to keep Pierce upright, the fourth-year Bombers pivot took three solid hits Wednesday, including two on the very first three plays.

The first of those hits was perhaps most worrying, as Pierce rolled out of the pocket and then took on two Toronto defenders in the open field instead of simply sliding to safety.

That's something Pierce has been criticized for repeatedly over the years and something he has vowed to stop doing.

"I wish he would have slid," Burke said. "But you guys know, that's Buck, he's a competitor. And for years that was a big part of his game..."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 14, 2013 C3

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