Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

What we know so far

For one thing, Blue might have to use three Americans on the O-line

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The players continue to be moved around like pieces on a chess board. And that's not surprising, given the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were a train wreck over the last two seasons and a new regime is now in control of all the pawns, rooks, bishops and knights.

But a question was asked Friday that does deserve some sort of answer. Or, at least, an update: What have we learned through a week of two-a-days?

Here is one man's opinion...

1. IS DREW WILLY THE ANSWER AT QB?

He's got good size and looks like he's comfortable rolling out and trying to make things happen on the run. But four CFL starts and less than 150 career passes makes Willy an unknown, whether he is lighting it up in camp or stinking out the joint.

As well, his evaluation is that much more difficult during camp, when touching a QB is verboten.

"He continues to learn and continues to make decisions at a faster rate with every practice," said head coach Mike O'Shea. "If there's a mistake -- which there is going to be with every player -- he doesn't have to be told. He's talking to (offensive co-ordinator) Marcel (Bellefeuille) and telling him what he would have done differently. He doesn't have to see it on film, he already knows it. He's a self-corrector."

Correcting mistakes is one thing, minimizing them in a game is another altogether. Willy has the reputation of being a gamer -- a player who might not wow you in practice, but is productive when the games get played. Whatever snaps he gets in the pre-season will provide a clearer answer.

 

2. THE O-LINE PICTURE: AS CLEAR AS MUCK

We cannot begin to document all the different starting offensive line combinations we saw over the past week when the supposed No. 1 offence was on the field. The list, to be honest, would be enough to fill a full page in the newspaper. O'Shea said it's not even worthwhile tracking, but given the problems up front over the last few years, it's become second nature in these parts.

Whispers are Matthias Goossen is impressing with every snap at centre, but may not be ready for the season opener. Vet Steve Morley is taking a lot of the work in the middle of the line and has been flanked on the left by Chris Greaves. After that, it's a bit of a guess with Glenn January at left tackle, Jarvis Jones at right tackle and Dan Knapp at right guard. Worth noting is that combo would be starting three Americans along the O-line.

That's what makes Patrick Neufeld's turns up front so critical: If the 25-year-old Saskatchewan product is ready -- or Goossen or Tyson Pencer, for that matter -- then the Bombers have some roster flexibility. But if they have to start three Yankees up front, it likely means a potentially dominant receiver or defender doesn't see the field.


3. CANADIANS ARE GOLD, AMERICANS SILVER

That's a reference to an old quote from CFL icon Wally Buono and it's gospel in this league. And the questions along the O-line -- specifically the idea of starting three imports -- makes this even more paramount with the Bombers. Ditto the loss of Ryan Lucas this week to a season-ending knee injury. Canadians Cory Watson and Rory Kohlert are locks in the receiving corps, Donovan Alexander at corner, Morley and Greaves on the O-line and Jake Thomas at defensive tackle. Finding that seventh starter up front is monumental; finding some depth behind Thomas -- or a player to push him -- must be on GM Kyle Walters' to-do list.


4. ANOTHER BACKFIELD QUESTION

Willy isn't the only unknown in the Bomber backfield. The battle for the starting running back chores will likely be one of many decided by pre-season games -- if there are any. Will Ford, who did not practice on Friday, has been impressive. But Nic Grigsby and Paris Cotton continue to pop off the page on a daily basis. Ford, who is also an excellent returner, is the kind of back who can be dangerous in the open field. The two newcomers appear to have those skills, too. But what made Charles Roberts legendary was his ability to get three yards on second and three -- when the whole stadium knew he was getting the ball.

 

5. FASCINATION, INDOCTRINATION... DOMINATION?

Gary Etcheverry's defence has long been pegged as "unorthodox" during his days in the CFL and early evidence from camp means that likely won't change. Players will line up all over the place, the pressure will come from all over the field and athletes with versatility -- Johnny Sears, Korey Banks, Desia Dunn and Kenny Tate among them -- will likely be critical to making this work. But as unique as it is, Etcheverry's defence is hardly new to the CFL: He has also held defensive co-ordinator positions with Toronto, B.C., Ottawa and Saskatchewan.

Different can be good. But can it be a difference-maker?


6. LIRIM, MIKE AND BRETT... WHO HANDLES THE KICKING CHORES?

Lirim Hajrullahu is the Canadian product from Western who is deadly with the ball on the tee and is working on his punting; Mike Renaud is the incumbent punter forever battling consistency and Brett Maher is the American from Nebraska who had looks from three NFL clubs last year.

All have shown something and all three will be sweating every kick in the preseason.

"That's the limited time frame: 20-odd days, two exhibition games... that's the pro game right there," said O'Shea.

Maher will have to handle all three chores -- punting, placekicking and kickoffs -- if the Bombers are going to go import at the position. If he's not better than Hajrullahu and Renaud, expect the two Canadians to split the gig.

"(Handling all three) has been done lots of times in the CFL," said O'Shea. "It's not too much to ask."

 

7. THE NEW BLUE BLOOD

Finally, nobody asked me, but here are the new faces that have jumped out from this perch: Grigsby and Cotton, the running backs mentioned above; defensive end Kenny Tate; defensive back Don Unamba; Goossen, the first-round draft pick and receiver Mario Urrutia.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 7, 2014 C4

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