Blue Bomber Report Record: 3–15–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mack tries to explain mess

Free Press Q & A with beleagured Blue Bombers GM

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His club has one win in six tries this season.

The message boards used to be friendly domain for his player moves, but even they have started to turn sour and now, after this miserable start, fans are starting to call for his dismissal.

All this, after an appearance in the Grey Cup last November.

No doubt, these are not the best of times for Joe Mack.

The Blue Bombers general manager granted some time with the Free Press before he embarked on a scouting mission through various NFL training camps Saturday. Mack, who has a record of 15-27 through two-plus seasons as the Bombers GM, has scheduled visits to Carolina, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh training camps this week, as he checks out what's available before NFL teams start to trim their rosters later this month.

Right now, though, his club's struggles is on the mind of most Winnipeggers.

Mack, reached in Chicago by phone Saturday, had this to say about the Bombers' worst start in four seasons:

 

FREE PRESS: Let's start with the obvious one: What's gone wrong?

JOE MACK: "We're not playing well. That's it. I'm not trying to be flippant or dodge the question, we're just not playing up the level we think we should be at and we've been much too inconsistent."

 

FP: Bye weeks typically see struggling teams reassess things, some even go back to the drawing board. Your team is 1-5. Will you consider making major moves this week?

JM: "I'm not sure how productive that would be. I had a conversation with (head coach Paul LaPolice Saturday) morning... I know everyone on the staff is frustrated. We'll have some more conversations and try to correct things that we can (correct)."

 

FP: Is Paul LaPolice's job safe?

JM: "Sure. Paul is a good person, a hard-working person and I think he's a good coach. I'm sure nobody is more upset and disappointed than Paul and his staff. As difficult as it is right now, I'm sure they'll do everything possible to try and turn this thing around."

 

FP: Let's focus on some aspects of the team. Starting with the offensive line, did you miscalculate how 'game ready' some of your young linemen were before the season?

JM: "If you look at our thought process, our hand was kind of forced in three different positions. Brendon LaBatte made a last-minute decision that he was going to leave, which limited us a bit. As I've said before, we thought we had a good chance of bringing him back. Obby Khan retired and Andre Douglas tore a ligament in his ankle and is out for the season, so we didn't really have much choice in changing our situation. There was only one other (free agent) O-lineman that we would have maybe looked at (Dominic Picard, who signed with Saskatchewan), but by the time we got around to him after Brendon left, it was too late and he went elsewhere. We're just trying to make the best of it right now. I will say this: I think our offensive line is starting to improve."

 

(That's a valid point: Blitz pickup from both the tailbacks and quarterbacks has been abysmal this year, and more than a few of the Bombers 19 sacks allowed -- not to mention some of the offensive struggles -- are directly related to those deficiencies)

 

FP: Given the growing pains on the line, are evaluations of quarterback Alex Brink and the offence fair or should they remain incomplete?

JM: "That's a valid point. I'm not going to preclude what Paul and the coaches ultimately decide, but looking at the film from (Friday) night, he had maybe one or two reads that he should have handled differently. I thought he played pretty well in that game, to be honest with you. We're seeing signs of (the offence) coming around. I don't think it's fair to lay all the blame on Alex at this point."

 

FP: Middle linebacker is an area of grief with the fans. The long-term plan is for Henoc Muamba to grab that spot, but has waiting for a Canadian to develop there put the defence at a disadvantage?

JM: "Um... that's something I don't really want to answer. We're hoping Henoc can step up and become a really productive middle linebacker for us. He's made some strides. Frankly, we have to be more consistent as a whole on defence."

 

(Mack preached patience for the other high draft choices in 2011, receivers Kito Poblah and Jade Etienne, and acknowledged the difficulties Winnipeg has had adding Canadian depth to the roster. Not having non-import running backs Anthony Woodson and Carl Volny have hurt, he said. Woodson is out for the year with a shoulder injury; Volny is still trying to come back from a serious knee injury)

 

FP: Are the Bombers too young?

JM: "It's difficult for me to say. I'm perplexed, to be quite honest with you. At times we do things really well, and then we don't... I guess that's indicative of a young team."

 

(Mack points out the Bombers were without 10 starters at one point this season. Injuries have hurt in this regard, since young backups have not met the expectations put on them from management. See: Doe, Dustin or Pasco, Darrell)

 

FP: There are whispers that the locker-room is divided, that some of the veteran players are not happy that others haven't been more accountable. How do you address that kind of situation?

JM: "Any time you're 1-5 and you have high expectations, those types of things can crop up. I think when you have players out of college or a couple years out, they aren't yet at the level of professional maturity and understanding how important that is. I can see why some veterans would be upset. These guys have short careers, so when the hourglass is tipped over and they only have a few more years to do this, they will have a different perspective. When you're not winning, it activates tension. I hope our players understand that they are professionals and act accordingly."

 

FP: What do you tell Bombers fans who are ready to cut their own losses and turn the page on the club this year?

JM: "I understand it, and we're going to do everything we can to get it turned around. We hope that they would stay with us. If I can find a silver lining to the question, the fact that they are upset is an indication that they're still passionate about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers."

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @wazoowazny

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 5, 2012 B3

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