December 10, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Statement games are usually events that become prominent on players' resumes.
For coaches, there are more wide-ranging opportunities to create highlights and turning points and to have course-changing influence and impact.
Was Monday such a day for Winnipeg Blue Bombers' head coach Tim Burke?
-- Tim Burke
Part-way through the workout at the practice field just west of Investors Group Stadium, Burke, about to begin his first full season in charge, assembled about two dozen veteran players.
Practice continued all about them, as if the small group was in its own little bubble, while the coach spoke.
"Basically I told them, most of (you) guys are going to make the team," Burke said after practice. "Now it's up to them: 'What kind of team do you want to have?'
"We want to perform at a high standard of excellence, so we have to practise at that high standard of excellence. We have to lead at that high standard of excellence, so everything they do is going to be watched by everybody else.
"So you want to lead by example. You want to be a positive influence. And we have to believe we're going to win. And I told them we're good enough to win it all, but you have to believe you can do it and you have to work to do it.
"So that's what I told them, in a nutshell."
Given that most of those veterans won't be playing in Thursday's final exhibition game in Guelph, Ont., against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Burke was clearly making a new beginning with his core group.
And it's obvious he thinks the team leans more in the direction of its 2011 record, 10-8, when the Bombers went to the Grey Cup game, than last year's 6-12 disappointment, when he was promoted to the head coaching job in the middle of the tempest.
"Most of these guys are the same guys who were here in 2011," Burke said. "I feel like they should believe that they're winners.
"Because we told the players who was going on this trip and who wasn't, I wanted them to look ahead, to focus and to start focusing in on Montreal. Right now, we should be be gradually building towards a peak on June 27."
Often, CFL teams will get their starters and veterans gearing up for the season by putting more emphasis on the pre-season game closest to the opener.
Burke and the Bombers are going a different way, and the coach wants his key players, most of whom are out this week, looking ahead to Game 1 against the Alouettes at Investors Group Field. It's just nine days away.
"My thing is, I just want to get us to the first game healthy. I know people have asked that... 'Is Buck (Pierce) getting enough reps?' We'll (Matt) Nicholls (who was injured in preseason action last week) isn't getting any reps for Edmonton and that's not the situation I want to be in. I want to be out there with a full batch of starters ready to go, ready to compete in the first game."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 18, 2013 D2