Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Poblah pushing perfect

Rocket-propelled WR drawing raves at camp

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A look at the roster sheet will tell you the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have 75 players in training camp.

But a look at the practice field at Canad Inns Stadium the past couple of days will tell you it's actually 74 players -- and Kito Poblah.

You know how critics were barking all winter how Bombers GM Joe Mack had done nothing in the free-agent market to find a player who could light a spark in what was a lacklustre offence last year -- the kind of player who can take over a game by himself and make a difference just by his presence on the field?

Funny thing -- it turns out Mack might have had one of those all along in Poblah.

The superlatives about Poblah this year began the very first day camp opened Sunday, picked up speed Monday, then went viral Tuesday as Poblah spent four hours on the field at Canad Inns Stadium putting on a receiving clinic.

He caught all the balls he should have caught -- and at least two more he shouldn't have. He got open constantly -- even against a first-team Bombers defence that was stretching the limits of even the most liberal definition of pass interference.

And when he got the ball? In a word -- gone.

Put it all together and the Poblah who has appeared in camp this spring is faster, bigger, stronger -- and exactly what the Bombers were hoping he'd be when they forfeited their first-round pick in this year's draft to take him in the 2011 supplemental draft.

But don't just take our word for it; ask defensive back Jonathan Hefney, who got to look at Poblah up close Tuesday -- even if it was often only at his back.

Now, Hefney hates receivers -- the whole species -- like dogs hate squirrels, and he is loath at the best of times to offer even the most begrudging respect to a guy who catches footballs for a living.

But on Poblah, Hefney is effusive -- with one caveat.

"If he can keep himself healthy," offered Hefney, "I think he's going to be one of the great receivers in this league. I don't think anyone is going to stop him."

If he can stay healthy. That's the caveat, all right.

As a rookie last year, Poblah looked great in camp too. While it was nothing like how he's looked the past three days, it was still good enough to crack the opening-day starting lineup in 2011.

But playing in his first-ever regular-season professional game, he promptly hurt his knee and did not return until Labour Day -- when he caught nine passes in his first game back.

Then just as the Bombers' brain trust was getting excited about Poblah again, he got hurt one week later in the Banjo Bowl -- this time it was his shoulder. That sent him to the sidelines until the Grey Cup, where he saw limited action as a backup.

Poblah is adamant the injuries in 2011 were anomalous in an otherwise healthy football career. If that's true, then just as his rookie season was one of missed opportunities, his sophomore year is starting to look like one of boundless opportunity.

"I think our quarterbacks have a trust factor with him," said Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice. "And some of the stuff we've been running really caters to (his position). So yeah, he's certainly made a lot of plays.

"And that's a kid who's played what? Three games? He's just got to keep getting reps and he should be good."

With a new contract signed over the off-season, Poblah is all smiles these days as he talks about having the same kind of comfort with the quarterbacks that they seem to have with him.

"It feels good and it's just a lot of fun right now," he said.

Asked if Winnipeg fans, who got only short glimpses of his game last year, are finally now seeing him at his best, he was defiant.

"I haven't seen my best yet. I'm still pushing myself. I believe I can get better... and I don't think I'm going to cap out on my best anytime soon."

A tantalizing prospect -- in more ways than one.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 6, 2012 C3

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