December 12, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Kyle WALTERS has been on the job as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' new assistant GM for less than two weeks.
So, understandably, when pressed on issues like the future of Buck Pierce and the rest of the names on the quarterback depth chart, the re-signing of any of the team's 11 free agents or the organizational blueprint heading into free agency in February, the man has few answers to offer up publicly.
But when the discussion turns to the team's Canadian content, Walters opens a binder full of names, and is eager to offer up opinions on current talent and what might be available in the 2013 draft next spring. So in a month when Canadian Football League news can be scarce -- outside of Hamilton, where the Tiger-Cats have undergone a football-operations makeover -- Bomber fans will have to make do with this:
The new next-in-command to GM Joe Mack, the man charged with assessing the Canadian talent and stockpiling more, likes what he sees in the homegrown cupboard.
"I think we're solid," said Walters on Tuesday as the sounds of a stadium being deconstructed are audible in the background. "Everybody would love to have that Andrew Harris, Jon Cornish star Canadian player. But I think Cory Watson, when healthy, is a high-end guy. He brings a toughness factor to our offence that can't be gauged statistically.
"I believe we're solid on the offensive line and we need a Chris Greaves to emerge as an all-star. We need him to take that next step. Ian Logan was an all-star in 2011 and Henoc Muamba, in his second year, took a big step. You expect him to be more comfortable next year and can he make that Shea Emry (Montreal Alouettes' middle linebacker) progression where he becomes a dominant player. That's got to be his next goal."
But Walters will also admit something else: The Bombers not only have a handful of players who the club would like to take the next step from good to great -- Watson, Greaves and Muamba being the keys -- but also a ton of Canadians who are at a bit of a career crossroads. Players like offensive linemen Paul Swiston, Brendan Dunn and Chris Kowalczuk and receiver Jade Etienne, among others, have to not just grab a roster spot, but begin pushing for starting jobs as soon as the curtain rises for 2013.
"You draft these guys and you have to give them a couple of years to learn and progress," said Walters. "But now a lot of that crew is going into its third year and it's time to step up or be replaced. That's the nature of the business.
"You draft or sign a young guy and you understand that for a couple of years you are going to work and improve and learn. But at some point it's p or get off the pot, so to speak. It's show us something or we've got to move on to the next guy. Guys like Paul Swiston, Brendan Dunn need to show that they're starters in the CFL in the next year or two. And it's time for Jade to make that next step and contribute.
"The key is that if you know a minimum of five and potentially six of your starters are going to be O-lineman and receivers then you need a lot of bodies and a lot of competition at those positions. And so you just keep stocking the shelves with those spots."
Now while CFL all-star berths are hardly the perfect measuring stick, here are some facts to consider while evaluating the Bombers' Canadian content, especially along the O-line and at receiver:
-- The last Canadian Bomber receiver named to the CFL all-star team was Gerald Wilcox, in 1994. Wilcox was also the last Bomber Canadian receiver to finish a year with 1,000 yards, in 1995.
-- Since 2000, a Bomber Canadian O-lineman has been named a CFL all-star only four times (Dave Mudge in 2001 and 2002, Brett MacNeil in 2001 and Brendon LaBatte in 2011). By comparison, three Montreal Alouettes -- all of them Canadians in Scott Flory, Luc Brodeur-Jordain and Josh Bourke -- were named to the CFL all-star team in 2012.
-- Just as a reference point, from 1980-1990, Bomber Canadian players made the CFL all-star team 24 times: Chris Walby (6), Joe Poplawski (4), John Bonk (4), Bob Cameron (3), Nick Bastaja (2), Trevor Kennerd (2), Scott Flagel (2) and Paul Bennett (1).
All of this points out why the Bombers were keen on having Walters drop his gig as special-teams coach and move into management as assistant GM: to spend more time scouting and scouring the continent looking to improve the Canadian content.
This isn't an off-season assignment anymore, but a year-round one for Walters. A former head coach at the University of Guelph who played for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats from 1997-2003, Walters vows to be a regular at CIS games and practices next year while working his network during the entire calendar.
"We want to make sure we get as many picks as possible to load up on our non-import talent," said Walters.
"The key to the CFL is your Canadian depth and that you put out at least seven Canadian starters you are comfortable with. You can never have enough non-import talent."
A look at the Canadians currently on the Blue Bomber roster:
Chris Greaves; Justin Sorensen; Steve Morley; Chris Kowalczuk; Paul Swiston; Tyson Pencer; Brendan Dunn
Cory Watson; Kito Poblah; Jade Etienne; Rory Kohlert; Cassidy Doneff
Michel-Pierre Pontbriand; James Green
Carl Volny*; Anthony Woodson, Nathan Riva
Fernand Kashama*; Jake Thomas; Ryan Lucas
Henoc Muamba; Pierre-Luc Labbe; Rene Stephan
Ian Logan; Dan West; Jawann Westerman; Teague Sherman
Placekicker: Justin Palardy
Punter: Mike Renaud
Long-snapper: Chris Cvetkovic; Jordan Matechuk
*Indicates impending free agent
Receiver Giovanni Aprile -- drafted in the third round (16th overall) of the 2012 draft. Attended Bomber training camp before returning to Queen's where he finished with 36 catches for 619 yards and three TDs and was named an OUA all-star. Expected back in Bomber camp in 2013.
DT Christo Bilukidi -- drafted in the third round (21st overall) in 2012 after being selected by the Oakland Raiders in the sixth round (189th overall). Has played in 11 games this year for the Raiders.
NOTABLE: Safety Brady Browne is not listed here. He is coming off an Achilles injury and is investigating joining the police force in B.C.
THE 2013 DRAFT
A look at where the Bombers would pick in the next CFL Canadian Draft
Round 1: 2nd overall
Round 2: 11th overall
Round 3: 20th overall
Round 4: 29th overall
Round 5: No selection -- traded to Saskatchewan as part of the Odell Willis deal last off-season
Round 6: 46nd overall
Note: If the Roughriders re-sign Willis, the Bombers would pick up an additional third-round pick as part of conditions of the trade.
Also: Thanks to a reader and the CFL for pointing out a change, since made here: as part of Ottawa’s return to the CFL, they will be able to select redshirt juniors only with the 9th pick (last) in each of the first four rounds of the draft. The Bombers will still pick second in every round, but their draft position has been affected.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 19, 2012 C1
Updated on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 11:23 AM CST:
Updates fact box on drafts.