1. NEW ERA EQUALS NEW RESULTS?
Let's get something out there right from the get-go: there's nothing Mike O'Shea, Kyle Walters and Wade Miller haven't done through the winter and training camp to show they aren't committed to winning.
Well, nothing except win... yet.
They've inked a new quarterback, clung to and thoroughly researched their draft picks and significantly upgraded their scouting department to bring in better talent.
That said, there is also a considerable amount of apathy and cynicism surrounding this team from the local populace heading into 2014 -- and with good reason.
This franchise has not only missed the playoffs in four of the last five years, it has just two winning seasons in the last decade (10-8 in 2011 and 10-7-1 in 2007) and was 3-15 last year and 6-12 the year before that. In fact, since their 7-1 start to open the '11 season, the Bombers are an absolutely atrocious 12-34.
So it's about more than the fancy new stadium, new coach and new QB. It's about more than extra watering holes in the upper deck, improving the traffic flow to the new building or charging stations for cell phones. That's all lipstick on a pig if this crew doesn't start piling up Ws in a hurry.
And that's fine with all of them.
"We want to win. That's the bottom line," said O'Shea Wednesday. "We're here to win, these guys are all here to win. Great effort is going to allow us to do that more often."
2. FREED WILLY
Bomber fans had to like what they saw from new QB Drew Willy in the pre-season -- his decision-making, his mobility in and around the pocket and, most importantly, his ability to move the offence. What this team's faithful would now love is for some stability at the position.
Willy will be the Bombers' sixth different starting QB in their last 23 games (dating back to Game 15 of 2012). Over that span they've made 12 different changes, due to injury, ineffective play or trade, using Buck Pierce, Joey Elliott, Alex Brink, Justin Goltz, Max Hall and now Willy.
But, like the rest of this team, Willy remains an unknown. He started only four games in relief while with Saskatchewan and has thrown just 147 career passes.
"The last couple of years Drew has basically been a starting quarterback in waiting," said Bomber receiver Nick Moore. "He's been playing behind one of the CFL greats in Darian Durant and him coming in here and having this opportunity, I know he's going to take full advantage of it. He's a guy that gets here first, leaves last and he's going to prepare like crazy. He looks comfortable in the pocket, he knows what he is doing and that's what you want, especially as a receiver. He just does everything in the right way."
3. THE RAY FACTOR, CHAPTER 3,451
If they aren't already, the sculptors at the Canadian Football Hall of Fame could begin working on the Ricky Ray bust. The Toronto Argonaut quarterback will be in the shrine as soon as he is eligible. Ray set CFL records last year in completion percentage (77.2) and efficiency rating (126.4) -- a good chunk of that courtesy the Bombers. In three games against Winnipeg last year -- all Toronto wins -- Ray was 79 for 100 for 1,037 yards with six touchdowns and one interception.
Interestingly, Ray's career record against Winnipeg is just 11-9-1, but he'll be lining up against a Bomber secondary with two CFL rookies in Bruce Johnson and Moe Leggett -- both with NFL experience -- and Matt Bucknor starting at corner for the injured Donovan Alexander.
"I hear about Ricky Ray every day, every day," said Leggett, the Kansas City Chiefs' rookie of the year in 2008. "He's a good quarterback, a veteran quarterback. He's very intelligent, knows what he's doing. He knows his players, his tendencies. I can't wait for it. We're just going to come out here and have some fun.
"We're at this level for a reason, we're in this league for a reason. We're pros."
4. THE BOMBERS' NEW DEFENCE IS...
Some have called it unorthodox, others unique. Yes, in a league where most of the offensive and defensive schemes are just slight variations of each other, what Gary Etcheverry does with his defensive crew is different. He'll blitz from all over, drop defensive tackles into coverage and -- when it's humming -- often leave opposition quarterbacks dazed and confused.
"It's just a completely different feeling coming to this field," said defensive tackle Bryant Turner, Jr. "You guys will see (Thursday). It's just completely different. The first thing coach Etch told us was to empty our bucket. Everything we know about football, forget it. It's totally different. It's almost like we get to drive a brand-new car that no one has seen. We can't wait to hit the streets.
"You have to see it to understand. The past two years with this organization... I was telling coach Etch that this was a great thing to walk into because we've got guys who are willing to do anything, who are willing to empty their bucket and forget everything just to have something good happen. There was skepticism at the beginning and he told us that was going to happen. He just kept calling it 'noise' and as long as we can get past the noise and buy into the system we'll have a very successful team."
5. THIS JUST IN...
... Wins in June and July can be just as important as those in October -- although the Bombers are hardly the perfect case study for that theory. Consider this: Winnipeg was 1-4 in June and July last year and the season before that. Only once since 2008 have the Bombers entered August with a winning record and, not surprisingly, it was in 2011 during their 7-1 start that helped propel them to a Grey Cup berth.
Not tripping out of the starting blocks would also give fans in these parts -- a generation who have not seen this team win a championship -- some hope the mushroom cloud in these parts is clearing.