December 5, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Winnipeg Blue Bombers faithful -- the true diehards who have followed and will continue to follow the franchise to hell and, they hope, back -- always find some smidgen of hope on which to cling.
And right here and right now, it's this: Even at 1-4 and suffering through a three-game losing skid, the Bombers are two points out of a playoff position.
But then there's this cold, hard reality: Right here and right now, the Bombers are a mess.
As much as opening old wounds can be painful, sometimes a visit to the doctor -- in this case, a surgeon, shrink and coroner are all on call -- can be therapeutic.
So here's our attempt to present some facts for further discussion. Reader discretion is advised...
THREE SCARY NUMBERS
-- 10-23: The Bombers' record since Labour Day 2011. Winnipeg rolled into Regina at 7-1 for the 2011 Classic and then lost, the beginning of a stretch that saw them go 3-7 to the end of the regular season before a win in the East Final and a loss in the '11 Grey Cup.
Since then, they have gone 6-12 in 2012 and are at 1-4 through the start of '13.
-- 16-28/5-10: Paul LaPolice was 16-28 in his two-plus years at the helm before being replaced by current head coach, Tim Burke, who is 5-10.
Worth noting: Of the last five coaching changes made by the Bombers -- Jim Daley replacing Dave Ritchie; Doug Berry stepping in for Daley; Mike Kelly for Berry; LaPolice for Kelly and Burke for LaPolice -- only one coached the club to a plus-.500 record before being fired: Berry, who was 27-26-1.
-- .356: The winning percentage (21-38) of GM Joe Mack since he took control of the club in 2010.
TWO KEY PROBLEM AREAS
The story that just won't go away for the Bombers. There's been one change already this season, with Buck Pierce replaced by Justin Goltz and Max Hall now warming up in the bullpen. This remains a revolving door with no clear-cut answer going forward and with a staff desperate to win right now. It all means patience is thin for development.
Fact: The Bombers, as a team, threw for only 16 passing TDs a year ago and are on a slower pace this season with just two through the first five games. Just FYI: 16 passing TDs was the lowest total for this organization since 1998 (also 16). In fact, you have to go back to 1973, when the Bombers were 4-11-1 and had only 15 passing TDs, to find a season in which Winnipeg QBs threw for fewer. But another factor to consider: Even in 2011, when he helped guide the Bombers to the Grey Cup, Pierce's numbers were hardly jaw-dropping: 14 TDs against 18 picks and the seventh-best QB rating among starters.
FYI: The last Bomber pivot to be named a CFL all-star was Khari Jones in 2001. The last Bomber pivot to be named a division all-star was Kevin Glenn in 2007.
Another story that just won't go away for the Bombers. Management has at least made the attempt to hang onto draft picks rather than trade them, but the take from four draft classes (2010-13) has been questionable. Yes, Henoc Muamba (first overall, 2011) is an emerging star, and Cory Watson (ninth overall, 2010) can be steady when healthy. But Tyson Pencer (third overall, 2012) has been stuck on the injured list and Andy Mulumba (second overall, 2013) is with the Green Bay Packers.
Granted, the club has hit some late-round steals in Chris Greaves (sixth round, 2010), Carl Volny (fifth round, 2011) and Jake Thomas (fourth round, 2012), but the haul from having five Top 10 picks in the last four years is, right now at least, pretty thin.
Consider this: The seven starting Canadians in last week's loss to Calgary were Muamba and his brother Cauchy, a safety, offensive linemen Greaves, Justin Sorensen and Steve Morley and receivers Jade Etienne and Rory Kohlert. Only three of that seven -- Henoc Muamba, Greaves and Etienne -- were Bomber draft picks.
By comparison, last week's opponent, Calgary, fielded a lineup that featured Jon Cornish and Dmitri Tsoumpas, both CFL all-stars last year, and specialists Rene Paredes and Rob Maver -- also CFL all-stars.
And the Saskatchewan Roughriders, unbeaten at 5-0, are now so deep in Canadian talent they started nine in last weekend's win over Hamilton. And two of them -- Brendon LaBatte and Dominic Picard -- were Bomber draft picks.
What's intriguing -- frustrating, if you are a Bomber fan -- is how the club has not used the draft or free agency to address needs on their offensive line where most teams start Canadians. Of the 21 picks since 2010, only three have been used as O-linemen: Pencer, Brendan Dunn and Paul Swiston (Greaves was converted from the defensive line).
Here's the dilemma facing the Bombers: The two critical issues facing the club, quarterbacking and Canadians, take time to fix. That said, they've been the two key issues facing the organization even before this current management regime.
The Bombers opted not to make a bold move like the Edmonton Eskimos did in dealing for Mike Reilly, didn't pull the trigger on landing a vet supposedly on the market like Glenn, thumbed their nose at pivots with CFL experience like Adrian McPherson (now in the Arena League) or Quinton Porter, and then cut both Joey Elliott and Alex Brink. Then they rehitched their wagon to Pierce and elevated Goltz from fourth on the depth chart to second.
The unfolding storyline here is the debate on whether to run with Goltz for a stretch to see if he can become the answer, versus handing the ball back to Pierce.
Here's the scary part for the Bombers: The options are going to be even thinner than usual this winter, as each team can protect only one pivot for the Ottawa RedBlacks expansion draft, with the CFL's new entry allowed to grab three QBs for their 2014 roster.
As for Canadians, the only addition the team made via free agency was adding centre Mark DeWitt, who was released during training camp. And Mack hasn't exactly established himself as the kind of wheeler-dealer who would attempt an upgrade via trade.
So where does this leave the organization? Essentially in the exact same place it was when Mack took over in 2010. As one CFL type said Monday about the Bombers' overall picture: "There's not one position on the field where I would say they are better than anybody. Not one. But they do have the nicest stadium in the league."
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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 30, 2013 D3