Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Operation: Keep Buck up

O-line knows their No. 1 priority this season

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Blue Bombers linemen Chris Greaves (left) and Shannon Boatman participate a drill Wednesday. The hogs know it's on them to keep QB Buck Pierce off the turf.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Blue Bombers linemen Chris Greaves (left) and Shannon Boatman participate a drill Wednesday. The hogs know it's on them to keep QB Buck Pierce off the turf. Photo Store

You can put in all the tight ends and fullbacks and three-step drops you want into what is being touted as the new and improved Winnipeg Blue Bombers offence, but at the end of the day the only thing that is really going to keep Buck Pierce healthy in 2013 is the five men playing directly in front of him.

 

So what about that rag-tag Bombers offensive line that struggled so mightily at the start of last season, only to gel into one of the better front-fives in the whole league by season's end?

To know where you're going, sometimes it's best to first review where you've been.

'If you look at us as a unit. I think we're all guys who've had success in our careers at some point and know how to compete'

-- veteran O-lineman Glenn January

In an injury riddled 2012 season, the Bombers offensive line was a patchwork born of necessity that included a starting right tackle in Shannon Boatman who was out of football entirely and teaching fifth graders in Texas when the Bombers called; a starting left guard in Chris Greaves, who the Bombers actually drafted in 2010 as a defensive lineman -- and in the sixth round, at that; and a starting centre in Justin Sorensen the B.C. Lions had essentially given up on after drafting him fifth overall in 2008.

Add to those three a veteran presence in right guard Steve Morley and left tackle Glenn January and you had a Bombers offensive line that appeared -- like all great front-fives -- to be greater than the sum of its individual parts.

"If you look at us as a unit," said January, "I think we're all guys who've had success in our careers at some point and know how to compete...

"We've been there and done that. And I think that was our identity last year -- that no matter where we were in the standings, we really made a committed effort all season to get better and we always had each other's backs, on and off the field."

Bombers head coach Tim Burke was asked Wednesday if a repeat performance by his offensive line of the way they played at the end of last season would be sufficient to keep Pierce healthy and get the production Winnipeg needs out of its offence to be successful.

"Obviously we'd like to see them get a little bit better," said Burke. "But I think if they play like that with the way we're protecting (the quarterback) now, I think that will keep Buck healthier.

"We've changed our protections a little bit, we've got ways for receivers to come back and help us, running backs to help us, fullbacks, all that -- we've just got a lot more different ways to help out."

While that might sound complex, Greaves says for him and his fellow linemen, the task in 2013 is actually very simple. "It's on us to keep Buck upright. That's what we get paid to do and that's our job -- plain and simple.

"There is no other way -- he has to stay upright. He has to make plays and the only way he's going to do that is if we keep the dirt off his back."

"And it's going to take all five of us to do that," added Boatman.

The man who was supposed to start at right tackle last season -- Andre Douglas, who missed all of 2012 with an ankle injury sustained in training camp -- is back healthy this year, but the Bombers coaching staff says Douglas will have to beat out the man who replaced him, Boatman, for the starting job.

That's quite a turn of events for Boatman, who quit football after Toronto gave up on him in 2011 and was teaching elementary school in Beaumont, Texas, when the Bombers contacted him last July.

Boatman is effusive with gratitude for the second chance Winnipeg has provided him.

"This has really been a blessing to me," said Boatman. "I thought football was over for me. And those fifth graders down in Texas? They were rough on me."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 6, 2013 D3

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