Blue Bomber Report Record: 3–1–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

While still largely untested, Winnipeg's Willy looks and sounds like a veteran starting QB

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The real test comes later when the live bullets start buzzing and -- to paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield -- 'defences are so nasty they sack the quarterback... and then go after his family.'

For now, what with Winnipeg Blue Bombers rookie camp having officially opened Wednesday night, we can offer up this yes-it's-too-soon first take on Drew Willy as the club's new starting QB:

He certainly looks and sounds the part of a No. 1 gun.

First, there was Willy deftly side-stepping questions about the CFL's pending labour war earlier in the day during a media availability. Then he flashed some leadership by indicating he would help organize off-site workouts if there is a strike on the weekend.

"I'm not going to comment on that, none of that has come out yet," said Willy when asked whether he would strike. "That's between us as a union. But if there was something to happen I'd make sure we were getting the guys together in Winnipeg making sure we were getting our work in... obviously not in the building, but somewhere around Winnipeg.

"Back in 2011 with the (New York) Jets I kinda went through the same thing (during a labour dispute) when I was there. (QB) Mark Sanchez got all the guys together. Whoever is in the area, we'll get all the leaders and make sure we get all the guys together.

"Hopefully it doesn't come to that."

Yes, he managed to drop a handful of names familiar to CFL and Bomber fans -- Sanchez, as well as Jeff Garcia, Khari Jones, Darian Durant, George Cortez, Bobby Dyce and Danny Barrett -- without sounding at all like a braggadocio more interested in thumping his chest than winning games.

Willy has walked into an intriguing situation with the Bombers, who have attempted to squelch any notion of a QB debate by repeatedly declaring him their starter -- regardless of what happens in camp -- from the day he came aboard via a trade with the Saskatchewan Roughriders this winter.

On the one hand this is a glorious opportunity for any quarterback candidate who takes over a franchise that went 3-15 last season and which has struggled to find a star at the position to help end the longest Grey Cup drought in franchise history.

On the other hand, well, he's a quarterback who is taking over a franchise that went 3-15 last season and which has struggled to find a star at the position to help end the longest Grey Cup drought in franchise history.

 

"Every single team is fighting for the same thing," Willy said of the Bombers' championship drought. "I mean, we won the whole thing last year (with the Riders) but we lost here (in the Banjo Bowl) during the year.

"It's in the future but that's got to be our ultimate goal. If you don't have that goal, why even come to work every day?"

That's a good, safe answer, the QB's version of a simple screen pass to a back leaking out of the backfield. But it also speaks of his maturity -- taking an "under-promise, over-deliver" approach is a veteran move, after all -- that the Bombers became enamoured with after landing him in the off-season following attempts to sign both Zach Collaros and Henry Burris.

Still, this is a man with all of four starts in spot duty with the Riders (1-3) who has thrown just 147 passes. And that explains, in part, why his eyes and ears have been wide open all winter, soaking up any piece of advice from Durant and his old coaches in Regina, from Barrett -- the ex-CFLer who coached him at the University of Buffalo -- to Garcia and, of course, Marcel Bellefeuille, the Bombers offensive co-ordinator.

"I learned a lot from Darian," said Willy. "We became very close. We had dinners together, we talked, our lockers were next to each other. Also, Khari Jones, Danny Barrett... I talk every few weeks... and then in the second year I had George Cortez and the first year I had Bob Dyce. You get a feel for what each guy thinks of the league and what they think is important and the things I need to be doing to be successful. You just put all that together and hopefully it all works together so that you can become everything you want to be as a player.

"It's like anything... in school you get your bachelors and then you go for your masters. I'm sure a guy like Ricky Ray or Henry Burris or Anthony Calvillo, these guys have been playing for so long and they're at such a high level they probably know where the ball needs to go on every single play. Obviously that's something you strive to get towards and you just work hard at it every single day."

Asked if he was working on securing his bachelors or his masters, Willy grinned, then added:

"You'll have to ask the coaches around me. But I think I have a good feel."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 29, 2014 D1

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Updated on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 6:58 AM CDT: Replaces photo, changes headline, adds sidebar

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