THE Winnipeg Blue Bombers can't afford injuries to their Canadian content this year.
That fact became apparent after non-import receiver Cory Watson left the field during a drill with the first-team offence at Canad Inns Stadium Sunday afternoon. Adding some consternation to the development was the fact Watson, a valuable possession target in the Winnipeg attack, was carted off to the locker-room soon after.
Breathe easy, Bombers fans.
The club says the 28-year-old only "tweaked a lower leg muscle" and was carted off as a precaution. The severity of the injury wasn't known after practice, as head coach Paul LaPolice had yet to be briefed by the medical staff prior to speaking to reporters, but the injury is believed to be minor.
Watson, who played in all 18 games last season (793 yards on 69 receptions), has been a fixture in the Bombers offence since arriving to Manitoba in 2010 and losing him for any stretch would be a major blow to a team that is counting on two Canadian starting receivers (Kito Poblah is the other) for big production.
It's not known if Watson will be available to the Bombers for the pre-season tilt against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Canad Inns Stadium Wednesday. That said, it's highly unlikely the club would take any chances if he was less than 100 per cent.
The Watson worry, passing as it might be, only underlines how delicate the Canadian receiver situation is for Winnipeg. Rory Kohlert took Watson's place in the first-team offence Sunday -- "they needed to fill a spot so I just stepped in there," the rookie said afterwards -- jumping ahead of second-year prospects Jade Etienne (fourth overall pick 2011) and Cassidy Doneff (free agent signing 2011).
"I feel like I'm doing all right," offered the soft-spoken Kohlert, who had two catches for 41 yards in the pre-season game against Montreal last Thursday. "I'm not really trying to think a lot about it. I'm just out there playing my game and doing what I can do. If the coaches feel that I fit in, then awesome."
That adaptable Canadian attitude and blue-collar sensibility has endeared Kohlert to the quarterback and the head coach. Both had high praise for a player who wasn't rated highly coming into training camp Sunday.
"I think he's a smart, smart player," Buck Pierce said. "We'd like him to put on a little bit of size but that will come. You look at how he understands the game... and how he understands the space of this field. As a Canadian who's played this game, you can really see him developing into a player.
"He's a guy who can make this team."
LaPolice agrees with Pierce's assessment. He says the 22-year-old from the University of Saskatchewan reminds him of players like Roughriders receivers Chris Getzlaf and Rob Bagg when they went through their introduction to the CFL game.
Right now, the plan for the Bombers if either Watson or Poblah are forced to miss time this season is to simply replace that player with another Canadian. For continuity's sake, let's say that player is Kohlert. If Watson goes down, the club would play Kohlert closer to the line of scrimmage where he's more likely to succeed. If it's Poblah who can't go, the club would again utilize Kohlert near the ball and switch another player to the outside receiver spot.
"The extra player has to be a 'plug and play' guy," LaPolice added. "He has to jump into a number of spots, or not have a lot of practice, and do it right. Rory has that capability."
The Bombers are back on the practice field today at 11 a.m.
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