A total of 31 CFL rookies, plus four veteran quarterbacks, are expected to be on the field at Canad Inns Stadium this afternoon as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers kick off the 2012 pre-season with the opening of their rookie training camp.
If history is any guide, the overwhelming majority of the rookies who report today will be long gone by the time the Bombers kick off the regular season June 29 against the B.C. Lions in Vancouver, in what will be a rematch of the 2011 Grey Cup.
And of the handful of rookies who do crack the Bombers regular-season roster in 2012, the majority will be here for their special-teams skills and to provide depth to the veterans who will start this season.
But every year, there always seem to be an unheralded rookie or two who simply muscle their way into a starting spot on the roster. Last year, for instance, it was little-known receiver Clarence Denmark who blew away the Bombers brain trust -- and secondary -- in training camp to unexpectedly earn himself a spot on the regular-season roster and, ultimately, a starting job.
By season's end, Denmark was the club's rookie-of-the-year nominee and also, the Bombers are hoping, one of their stars of the future.
So, is their a similar diamond in all the rookie rough that will work out at Canad Inns Stadium on their own for the next three days before veterans report to camp this coming weekend?
Here's a look at the rookie class of 2012, some players to keep an eye on and some storylines to watch for:
RUNNING BACKS (3)
29Anthony Woodson (non-import) 6.00 210 1988-01-07 Calgary
26Bloi-Dei Dorzon (import)5.09 205 1984-11-23 Jackson State
5Chad Simpson (import)5.09 216 1985-08-22 Morgan State
WIDE RECEIVERS (9)
80Cassidy Doneff (non-import) 6.00 183 1986-07-14 Washburn
87Rory Kohlert (non-import)6.02 182 1988-01-07 Saskatchewan
12Kurt Adams (import) 6.04 197 1987-07-10 Harding
86Jeremy Blount (import)5.09 157 1988-11-12 South Dakota
84Paul Hubbard (import)6.02 215 1985-06-12 Wisconsin
13Chris Matthews (import)6.05 218 1989-10-06 Kentucky
83Doug Pierce (import)6.05 190 1987-06-14 Friends
N/AVictor James (import)6.012041987-05-23New Mexico
N/AIsaac Anderson (import)5.10 1761988-11-26Wisconsin
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (5)
61Brendan Dunn (non-import)6.07 280 1988-08-21 Western Ontario
65J-S Laberge (non-import) 6.04 295 1987-05-09 Sherbrooke
53Sam Nemis (non-import)6.03 310 1983-01-10 Manitoba
66Jordan Taomina (import) 6.07 330 1988-09-11 Oklahoma State
* Tyson Pencer (non-import)6.083301989-02-10Washington State
DEFENSIVE LINE (5)
93Rob Jubenville (non-import) 6.02 255 1989-11-30 Saint-Mary's
95Jake Thomas (non-import)6.02 270 1990-12-16 Acadia
99Andre Caroll (import) 6.02 300 1988-09-06 Delaware Sate
91Brandon Collier (import) 6.01 285 1985-09-27 Massachusetts
96Alex Hall (import) 6.05 250 1985-08-17 St. Augustine's
42Rene Stephan (non-import) 6.01 225 1988-05-07 Harding
3Dustin Doe (import) 6.00 228 1987-09-10 Florida
51Javon McKinnon (import)6.00 223 1988-02-22 Arkansas State
27Terrell Parker (import) 5.11 220 1987-10-22 Glenville State
DEFENSIVE BACKS (5)
30Johnny Aprile (non-import) 6.02 208 1989-06-12 Queen's
33Dan West (non-import)6.01 195 1986-09-03 Bishop's
22Darrel Pasco (import)6.00 170 1987-05-15 Georgia Southern
15David Pender (import) 6.00 172 1987-12-04 Purdue
37Demond Washington (import) 5.09 182 1987-09-30 Auburn
* Pencer was still unsigned as of Tuesday, but the Bombers are expected to announce today they have come to terms with the third overall pick in the 2012 draft.
Three rookies to watch
1. Johnny Aprile: The Bombers, including head coach Paul LaPolice, are big on the versatility of Aprile, who they selected in the third round (16th overall) in the CFL Draft earlier this month.
Aprile was a receiver at Queen's, but the Bombers also like him in other positions on the field and have him slotted as a defensive back on the depth chart.
"He's one of the most physical receivers we've seen in a long time. He's tall, rangy, can really move. I've talked to him a little about the possibility of playing some free safety," said LaPolice. "He's so big that we think he could play a spot some linebackers play on special teams."
And on top of all that, Aprile is also a pretty good kick returner, leading the nation last season in average yards per return (36.5) and TDs (2).
2. Tyson Pencer: The Bombers have designs on ultimately turning one of their offensive tackle positions into a non-import job -- and Pencer is key to that strategy. A standout for two years at Washington State, Pencer -- along with another rookie in Brendan Dunn and veteran Paul Swiston -- will all get a look at the position during this camp.
Pencer has the rare quality of size and speed and while it would be a huge leap for him to take on the league's rush ends in a starting role this year, the club believes he might be the future.
3. Dustin Doe: Doe, who got into three games last season after signing with the Bombers in August, got a big vote of confidence from Bombers management last week when the club traded LB Merrill Johnson to Edmonton for a draft pick. Johnson was a solid special teams player for Winnipeg last year, but the club feels Doe has more upside at linebacker and he'll be expected to challenge Marcellus Bowman for a job this year.
Two rookie storylines
1. The battle at running back: Chris Garrett took over rushing duties for the Bombers from Fred Reid towards the end of last season and raised some eyebrows, in particular with a 190-yard rushing performance against Hamilton in the East final.
With Reid -- the 2010 league-leading rusher -- released during the off-season, the job would appear to be Garrett's to lose in 2012. But that doesn't mean he's going to be handed the job as the Bombers have brought in three CFL rookies to challenge him and provide some depth.
Chad Simpson is probably the most interesting of the three challengers -- the other two are 2010 fourth round non-import Anthony Woodson and 2011 practice roster import Bloi-Dei Dorzon. Unlike those two -- and Garrett, for that matter -- Simpson has experience at the highest level of pro football, having played 25 games as a reserve running back and kick returner for the Indianapolis Colts, including the 2009 Super Bowl.
2. Feeding frenzy at receiver: With the signing of two more import receivers on Tuesday -- Isaac Anderson and Victor James -- the Bombers will have nine rookie receivers competing in camp.
Given that four of the five starting receiver positions for Winnipeg are pretty much filled already for 2012 -- barring injury, Terrence Edwards, Cory Watson, Clarence Denmark and Kito Poblah will all be on the field June 29 -- then that means those nine rookies, plus Jade Etienne, will be scrapping for the final starting job vacated by the departure of Greg Carr to Edmonton in the off-season.
The Bombers loved Carr because of his size at 6-foot-5 and they've gone looking for some more in the off-season, with Matthews and Pierce both standing 6-foot-5 and Adams at 6-4.
Meanwhile, Anderson (5-foot-10, 176) attended the Washington Redskins training camp in 2011 and is 22nd all-time on the University of Wisconsin receiving yards list.
James (6-foot-1, 204) was a backup quarterback at New Mexico but converted to receiver in his senior year and caught 35 passes for 398 yards and three TDs. He was signed by the Seattle Seahawks in 2010 but was released before the pre-season. He spent last season in the Arena Football League.