HAMILTON -- There were mistakes. Oh, man, were there mistakes as the curtain came down on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' pre-season Sunday afternoon.
But while many of the same questions that were present when training camp first opened continue to linger, there were also just enough flashes shown in the Bombers' 38-20 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to have everyone intrigued by what might be behind the curtain when it is lifted again for the real games in 11 days.
Question now is, can Paul LaPolice & Co. transform their collection of vets, stars and budding talents into a viable Canadian Football League contender in time for their regular-season opener against Hamilton on July 2?
"What I told the guys is our execution is what matters," said LaPolice outside a steamy Bombers clubhouse at Ivor Wynne Stadium. "I said, 'A lot of people in this room, we're going to need you this year. I don't know when it's going to happen, but in my time in the Canadian Football League you understand that people get hurt and the next guy has to step up and you've got to be successful. We're not going to be in the excuse business.' That's my message to them.
"Yeah, there's a team here."
He's right about that, although it can occasionally be painful to watch a squad go through its metamorphosis. The early-season baby steps included a rough day for kick-return prospect Travis Shelton, who had a ball slip by him -- he insists he didn't touch it -- and ruled a fumble as William Heyward scooped it up for a TD.
They included two drops from receiver Adarius Bowman, too many two-and-outs from the starting offensive unit, a number of offside penalties and enough mental breakdowns to make the coaches go loopy.
But there were some stand-up performances, too, among them:
-- Quarterback Steven Jyles, who completed nine of 14 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown and looked much more comfortable in the pocket.
"I threw the ball pretty well," said Jyles. "Last week (he was just two of eight with an interception) was one of those games. The ball was slipping out of my hand and I was trying too hard, pretty much. This week I said, 'Just play the game, treat it like practice and you'll be OK.' I was comfortable with it. That was my mindset. Just stay calm and make it like practice.
"It's up to (the coaches) as to who is going to start (at quarterback). Like I told them earlier, regardless of what the role is I truly believe within this year I'm going to play. To start the season would be great, but I just want them to be confident in me."
-- Rookie receiver Terence Jeffers-Harris, who had three receptions for 79 yards and a TD, continues to jump off the page.
-- Defensive back Alex Suber, who had four tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
-- Linebacker Marcellus Bowman, who is going to make the coaching staff's decision to pick a weak-side linebacker to replace Siddeeq Shabazz easier after another solid performance.
-- And quarterback Alex Brink completed five of eight passes for 86 yards and a TD strike to Cory Watson.
"There were definitely some good things about it, but there are some things I'm going to look at on film that definitely need to improve," said Brink. "To get a little more time and be able to move the football and complete some passes and score a touchdown -- that's what you want in a pre-season game. I got a lot of help today, too: Cory Watson made a great play in the end zone."
The Bombers left a number of vets at home -- including defensive regulars Doug Brown, Ike Charlton, Joe Lobendahn, Jovon Johnson, Odell Willis and Phillip Hunt -- and it showed early as Kevin Glenn marched the Ticats up and down the field. But the point of the pre-season is to evaluate talent and the Bombers exited Hamilton Sunday night with enough videotape evidence -- good and bad -- to help them piece together their team before Thursday's cut-down day.
"That's why we didn't bring a lot of veterans and there will be a lot of good film to watch of all the players we wanted to evaluate," said LaPolice.
"There were some positives: our defence kept them from scoring sevens. We had too many penalties -- I think we had three offsides in the first half -- which we've got to clean up. I thought we moved the ball at times, but we've got to catch the football better... and just sustain drives. We've still got work to do."