Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Defending champs making adjustments

Riders change things up after losing six starters

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They're the team fans of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers love to hate more than any other.

And Bombers fans will have more chances to express that love (and hate) this coming CFL season, with Winnipeg's move back to the West Division meaning the Bombers will play the Saskatchewan Roughriders three times in 2014 instead of just twice.

So, what will Bombers fans be hating on in Green and White this season? Well, while the Riders have lost six starters from last year's Grey Cup-winning squad -- two on offence and four on defence -- Riders GM Brendan Taman insisted in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday people are kidding themselves if they think the loss of so many starters means the Riders will be a pushover in 2014.

"There is a grand number of guys who have left but we don't get caught up in what other people think of us, it's what we think of ourselves. And I think me and (head coach) Cory (Chamblin) strongly believe we're going to be a good football team again. We don't think it, we know we will be.

"We've got a good group coming back... It is what it is, but I think we're going to have a good team."

The two starters on offence who won't be back this season are slotback Weston Dressler and running back Kory Sheets, who together accounted for about 40 per cent of Saskatchewan's offensive yards last season.

That's a big loss of two very significant players. But the loss of four defensive starters is also going to be tough to replace. Included in that group is highly coveted non-import safety/linebacker Craig Butler, who signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as a free agent.

But Chamblin, who also took part in the conference call, is upbeat.

"I think change is good," said Chamblin. "Losing some of the guys on defence caused us to change some of the things we were going to do. And I kind of like some of the changes we made. It's not a negative change. I think it's a positive change."

Taman was asked what he thought about the other big change this season, which will see the Riders play the Bombers twice in Winnipeg this season and once at Mosaic Field on Labour Day Weekend as Winnipeg returns to its traditional home in the West Division.

"It's good that Winnipeg is back in the West. I think that's where they belong, frankly. I'm sure they're looking forward to playing us three times and it will be a fun rivalry.

"And they're going to be a better team, so it will be a good situation. We were hoping they'd play here twice instead of us going there twice. They have a great stadium and a good fan base, so I'm sure it will be good."

Chamblin was asked what he's going to do for a backup to starting QB Darian Durant this season now that his previous backup -- Drew Willy -- is in Winnipeg, where the Bombers braintrust is hoping Willy will start this year.

Chamblin said he hopes Tino Sunseri will grow into the backup role, just as Willy did last season.

"I think Tino will take the next step. Drew Willy was second last year and I can tell you... coming out of our Florida (mini-camp) we weren't that high on Drew last year. But Drew kept getting better as the days went on and he became our number 2. And he even played in a (regular season) game for us and he won the game...

"I think like anyone else in the CFL, after the starting quarterback you have a lot of unknowns. Hopefully we won't get to find out unless we're up in every game."

Taman was circumspect when asked what the future holds for aging slotback Geroy Simon, who was aquired from the B.C. Lions last year. Taman suggested Simon will have to restructure his contract, which is headed into an option year, if he's going to return.

"Geroy and I have, obviously, a pretty good relationship, so when we made this deal last year to acquire him we knew at the end of the first year he played for us that we'd sit down and talk about his role,'' Taman said.

"Obviously we have a contract issue we're going to have to talk about, too, so that plan is ongoing...

He's got as good a chance of not being back as he will be back.''

Yardsticks: The Bombers announced Tuesday they have released former Tennessee Titans linebacker Gerald McRath. The Bombers had been touting the NFL veteran as a potential replacement this coming season for former middle linebacker Henoc Muamba, who signed over the winter with the Indianapolis Colts. McRath, whose NFL career was shortened by knee injury, took part in last month's Bombers mini-camp in Florida... The Bombers also announced Tuesday the release of linebacker Cyhl Quarles.

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 7, 2014 C5

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