It's one week into Winnipeg Blue Bombers training camp and if there is a clear consensus on this club heading into 2013 right now, it would be this:
Nobody really has a clue how to get a read on this bunch.
They are, in essence, the perfect description of a work in progress. And until all the colours on the canvas are actually brushed into something recognizable, the 2013 Bombers will remain more mystery than sure thing.
After all, this is a squad coming off a 6-12 season in which it fired its head coach, dumped two of its quarterbacks, lost Jason Vega to the NFL, will likely start the season with two new linebackers, was very quiet in free agency and cut its starting safety.
And without a measuring stick with which to compare this crew -- that comes Wednesday when the Toronto Argonauts roll into town for the first preseason tilt -- the Bombers still have more questions than answers.
All that said, here are some random observations -- written in pencil, not ink -- after 11 practices in eight days...
BUCK Pierce is a lean, mean, fighting machine after dropping weight this off-season and has re-established himself as the No. 1 quarterback. All of which means diddly until the QBs dump their yellow "hands off" jerseys and the hitting starts for real. Granted, CFL camps are really so short incumbents are rarely, if ever, unseated. Justin Goltz is listed as No. 2 on the depth chart, but Max Hall is very much in the picture pushing for more work. Chase Clement keeps getting referred to as a "gamer." Translation: his snaps on Wednesday had better jump off the game film.
WILL Ford didn't spend any time this off-season peeking at Chad Simpson's press clippings. Simpson, the team's Most Outstanding Player nominee last year, had an excellent first week of camp and still figures to get the bulk of the work out of the backfield this season. But Ford is a dynamic threat and his skills jump out at every practice. He appeared in 11 games last year and had just 23 carries but sported a solid 5.8-yard average filling in for Simpson. Both men will be on the active roster; question is, can offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton get Ford more than the 30 touches (23 carries, seven receptions) he had last year? And where does this leave Chris Garrett, who entered last year as the top dog in the backfield?
FURTHER to the secondary... discuss among yourselves: Was head coach Tim Burke really that steamed with the effort of his veteran defensive backs last week -- he threatened to cut one or more if they didn't improve -- or was he laying the foundation for a decision that has already been made in that corps? Or both?
DAY 8 of Bomber training camp offered up much the same plotlines as the rest when it came to the club's punting battle. Namely, Mike Renaud, Brett Cameron, Tim Hutchison and Billy Pavlopoulos all took turns hammering kicks into the sky and occasionally whiffing on others. Renaud, as the most-experienced hoofer, would seem to have the edge. But this looks and smells like a situation where two punters will be kept around. This story likely doesn't end when the team is picked for the opener later this month.
RIGHT now the Bomber linebacking corps, which lost Marcellus Bowman to free agency, is without Henoc Muamba and Johnny Sears -- both injured -- and features Terrell Parker, who has all of five games under his belt, at the third starting spot. That doesn't exactly scream out Battle, West, Jones and Randolph -- the linebackers who started the last time this franchise won a championship. But if Muamba and Sears get healthy lickety-split, there could be something here worth watching.
IF there was a poll conducted on who the most impressive newcomer in camp might be to date, our guess is defensive back Marty Markett would win going away. He's adjusted quickly to the Canadian game and has sprinter's speed. But the CFL also eats up rookie defenders learning on the fly and he'll need to be mistake-free to unseat one of the regulars.
THE kick-return chores have any number of candidates, but the gig is still wide open. The Bombers know Jovon Johnson might be their best option and that both Clarence Denmark and Demond Washington have handled the responsibilities in the past. Two newcomers -- Jameze Massey and Trevor Kennedy -- will likely be the first to audition against the Argos, but this is a spot that has to be filled with a game-breaking star, not a revolving door of wannabes. Consider this: Chad Owens had 77 punt returns and 71 kickoff returns a year ago -- that's a ton of touches to leave in the hands of someone just average.
GLANCE at the Bomber depth chart and it's hard not to get caught up in the potential of a receiving corps that features Chris Matthews, Cory Watson, Terrence Edwards, Clarence Denmark and Kito Poblah. But Watson and Edwards are currently on the mend, Poblah has been inconsistent and Denmark's numbers were down in 2012. All that likely means Bomber management will do everything possible to keep a ton of receivers around town.
THE Bomber coaches were quite clear on Saturday that Paul Swiston -- who at 6-9 and 317 pounds can blot out the sun -- is pushing Steve Morley at right guard. But the betting right now is the Bombers will open the season with this starting five: Glenn January and Shannon Boatman at the tackles, Morley and Chris Greaves at guard and Justin Sorensen at centre. It's long been said a team gets its identity from the hogs up front and these guys were solid late last year.
And, finally, what does all this mean? Your guess is as good as any. And the real answers don't start getting served up until June 27.
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