Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Kowalczuk snaps right to it

Has to pick up the centre position in a hurry

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Works in progress, unfinished business of any sort, often carry positive and negative distinctions.

Consider that thought when examining the Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive line, a group that will see two new starters (guard Chris Greaves and centre Chris Kowalczuk) and two players from the 2011 campaign switching places (Glenn January moves to left tackle; Andre Douglas moves to right) for the coming season.

Work still needs to be done, but forget about the doom and gloom. Finding mid-season form in June is rare, so no sense in fretting about the pounding quarterback Buck Pierce may receive through six days of camp.

If you're going to make mistakes, make 'em now, says one veteran lineman.

"Definitely, with new faces in there, it's not going to come together overnight," right guard Steve Morley said after the workout at Canad Inns Stadium Friday. "We're not there yet but we're coming together."

This guarded optimism is the perfect segue for Kowalczuk, who despite some struggles appears to the Bombers centre in these early stages. The 27-year-old, who has no CFL experience outside of two pre-season games at guard (2011), has been working diligently at his assumed profession, trying to understand the nuances of the middle as the regular season grows larger on the horizon.

Kowalczuk was asked by the Bombers to start taking snaps last July. He missed a chunk of time with a serious ankle injury, though, but continued to work on his new craft during the winter, staying in Winnipeg to train with other linemen. When Obby Khan retired in April, the team told Kowalczuk that he'd be in the mix (along with Justin Sorensen) for the centre position.

And while Sorensen did take a few first-team reps in the middle Friday, the gig is Kowalczuk's to lose.

"It's been a long path, from not snapping at all to right now, where all I do is snap," he said. "Mentally, the position has slowed down quite a bit for me. I'm processing things a lot faster now. It's come a long way, that's for sure."

After delivering a clean snap and protecting the quarterback, the 6-foot-5, 295-pound Kowalczuk says his biggest challenge is making the right call to the line. He needs to identify the substitutions on defence and bark out the right protection based on those changes. The wrong call could result in scraping Pierce off the turf seconds later, so identification of the situation is paramount.

To assist in this, the Bombers coaches have asked Morley -- who LaPolice identified as a backup centre Friday -- to help the sophomore when he notices something Kowalczuk's eyes may miss.

"I'll make the call out there, too, sometimes, and get it out there quick," the seven-year CFL veteran said. "If Chris has a question about something, I'll help him out that way. That's what the coaches want us to do. We have a lot of new faces in the group, so the more guys talking and making sure everyone is on the same page the better it will be."

LaPolice said the coaches asked all the veteran linemen to help educate the youngsters through this current O-line turnover.

The Bombers need the University of Toronto product to fall into the 'sooner' category. There have been some growing pains this week but that said, the Bombers picked a good time to bring Kowalczuk up to speed in his new position, as three weeks of daily training camp workouts and a pair of pre-season games should give him enough exposure before the start of the season. Twitter: @wazoowazny

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2012 C2

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