Blue Bomber Report Record: 4–1–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canadian depth razor-thin

Bombers living on edge with chronic shortage of homegrowns

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Pride might stop many from climbing into a dumpster and sifting through trash in a desperate attempt to score something salvageable.

But if you are Kyle Walters, Mike O'Shea and the rest of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers brain trust it will be an absolute must in the days ahead to roll up their sleeves and unearth some depth for their Canadian content, which continues to thin with each passing week.

The club announced Monday linebacker/defensive back Graig Newman -- a good ol' prairie kid who was groomed in the Saskatoon Hilltops organization before turning pro with the Saskatchewan Roughriders -- will be lost for the season after suffering a dislocated and fractured ankle in Saturday's loss to the Calgary Stampeders.

Newman, signed in the off-season after two years with the Riders, said in a statement "This is obviously very disappointing, as I was really looking forward to being a part of all the new things going on in the Blue Bomber organization... I look forward to getting back out there as soon as possible."

O'Shea, in fact, has his fingers crossed Newman -- who was to have surgery Monday -- could be back before the end of 2014.

"I'm not saying he's done for the season," said O'Shea. "I know that's what's been said in the report, but I'm optimistic and so is he. We'll see him soon. He's already in his mind figuring out his rehab and how hard he's going to work. He's a tough, tough character. He's a hard-working guy who loves football. We'll see what kind of spirit that will produce. Ask me again in a couple months, three months possibly. He's got a good spirit."

All that said, the injury to Newman -- along with the news earlier in camp that Ryan Lucas would be lost for the season -- just hammers home again how thin the Bombers are in their Canadian content. Couple those two blows with the injuries to two more homegrowns in Cory Watson and Donovan Alexander and finding seven Canadian starters -- let alone 21 to dress for the season opener against Toronto in nine days -- is already a complicated puzzle.

Although you won't hear O'Shea admit as much publicly. Asked if he was concerned about his Canadian depth on Monday, he said:

"No. When you build a team to start a season, you build it with 46 starters. I'm not worried. As I said before, I'm thinking about Graig right now and his next few days more than the other stuff."

Now for what's worth, O'Shea said he hopes that Watson will be back practising this week; Alexander the week after. That likely means the Bombers seven starting Canadians for their opener will be offensive linemen Chris Greaves, Steve Morley and Patrick Neufeld, Watson and Rory Kohlert at receiver, Jake Thomas at defensive tackle and either Matt Bucknor or rookie Derek Jones at corner if Alexander isn't quite good to go.

It's worth noting the club loves the upside of centre Matthias Goossen, drafted second overall, and is pleased with the showings of their 2014 draft class that also includes Jones, mentioned above as a candidate at corner, along with linebackers Jesse Briggs and Aram Eisho and O-lineman Quinn Everett. But asking them to be ready to take starter's snaps in nine days is risking rushing some of their brightest prospects.

That's why more eyes will be on the waiver wire than before to try and find some depth to back up those seven starters, particularly behind Thomas along the D-line. That is key to what they do here, as any addition has to fit a positional need. An example: A CFL source said Monday the Bombers have opted to pass on running back Jerome Messam -- the league's top Canadian in 2011 -- after he was cut adrift by the Montreal Alouettes because they are committed to using an American at running back and have Carl Volny as a homegrown in reserve.

As painful as it is, it's also pointing out again why the Bombers' Canadian depth is so mediocre. The club had 25 draft picks from 2009-13, of which only seven -- Watson, Greaves, Thomas, Volny, Paul Swiston, Rene Stephan and Carl Fitzgerlad -- are still on the roster. However, of the 10 top 20 overall picks they had over that period only Watson and Fitzgerald remain.

The others -- OL Mike Morris, 19th in 2009; LB Henoc Muamba, WR Jade Etienne and OL Brendan Dunn, first, fourth and 17th in 2010; OL Tyson Pencer and WR Giovanni Aprile, third and 16th in 2012; and DE Andy Mulumba and DB Kris Robertson, second and 11th in 2013 -- have either all been cut, traded or signed elsewhere.

Revisiting that nightmare does the current regime no good, of course. And when O'Shea was asked Monday if they will be scouring the waiver wire in the next few days, he didn't exactly tip his hand.

His answer, however, could have been prefaced with a "Well, duh... No kidding, Sherlock."

"Kyle's department does all that and I'm sure they do," he said with a "do-I-really-have-to-answer-this?" smile. "They're professionals at their job and they probably see everything all the time."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca.

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 17, 2014 0

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