Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canucks worth their weight in gold

Quite unlike Yanks, who are a dime a dozen in today's CFL

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It is the first commandment in the unofficial CFL management bible: "Thou shalt treat Canadians as gold, imports as silver."

And for the first time in a generation, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will not only be active participants in the opening round of Sunday's CFL Canadian Draft, but hold the first- and fourth-overall selections and a glorious opportunity to restock their Canadian content.

There will be no more crossed fingers while the first round unfolds with Bomber staffers slurping java and picking through the doughnut box. No more trying to find a late-round diamond in the bargain bin.

No, for the first time since 1975 the Bombers will call out the first name Sunday morning when they announce they have selected St. Francis Xavier linebacker Henoc Muamba No. 1 overall. And then they'll get right back to business with the fourth-overall pick.

"They're important, but these are pieces to a much bigger puzzle," said Bomber head coach Paul LaPolice. "We're always going to get, 'Oh jeez why did they take that guy? They should have done this...' Understand this: these guys have a huge learning curve. We've got to continue to grow and push these guys to become Canadian starters.

"But the nice thing is we know from the very beginning who we're going to take with the first pick and so that allows you be a little bit more calm. Everyone's waiting to see what we do.

"Next year," added LaPolice, "we're hoping we're in the position where we're watching what the seven other teams do."

There's still some work to go from 4-14 to Grey Cup champion, but we get LaPolice's point.

That said, the Bombers head into the draft knowing that their most dominant Canadian, defensive tackle Doug Brown, is heading into his last season and that their second-best homegrown product -- guard Brendon LaBatte -- is playing out his option in the hopes of landing an NFL look in 2012. As well, Canadian offensive linemen Obby Khan, Steve Morley and Ryan Donnelly are in the 30-years-or-over range while fullback Jon Oosterhuis is 33, slotback Brock Ralph is 29 and safety Ian Logan is 28.

Translation: this team needs to unearth a player or two in this draft who can morph into starters AND find talent which makes the roster this season and contributes on special teams. Muamba fits that bill, although even as he was to head to Winnipeg for Sunday's event there are concerns about the club's ability to sign him, as his agent Jonathon Hardaway also represents Cory Greenwood -- drafted third overall last year by the Toronto Argonauts and now with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Now, earlier this week it was suggested in this space that Sunday's draft could ultimately play a role in defining this current management regime. And here's the basis of that theory: score a couple of touchdowns with these early picks -- or any of the six, for that matter -- and the franchise will have added important pieces in a possible return to glory. If, however, they should fumble on the first- and fourth-overall picks they are just that much further away from the winner's circle.

"That just makes it interesting for the newspapers and the blogs," countered GM Joe Mack. "I think what will define ourselves is how we conduct ourselves professionally and then what our win and lost record is and if we get a chance to hopefully get back to the Grey Cup and win.

"Obviously we want to be productive in this draft, but if we end up winning a lot of games people won't remember what we do on Sunday. Hopefully what we do on Sunday will help contribute to getting to where we want to be, which is a Grey Cup champion."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 7, 2011 C3

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