Blue Bomber Report Record: 4–1–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue backup plan

Give the ball to one of two guys with zero CFL snaps... and pray

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With so much upheaval and so many personnel changes affecting the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the off-season, there are almost a limitless number of unknowns heading into the team's first game of the 2014 CFL season this Thursday night at Investors Group Field.

But if you had to narrow it down, one of the biggest and most important 'What if's' heading into the new season would have to be this:

What if Drew Willy gets hurt?

And the reason that's such a big and pressing question is because the answer is:

Nobody's really sure.

That's because how can you be sure what is going to happen if the Bombers starting quarterback gets hurt this season when neither of his backups -- or the fourth QB on the practice roster, for that matter -- has ever before played in the CFL?

In a season in which the Bombers braintrust is making a number of high-stakes gambles, that might be the biggest gamble of them all.

Now, yes, it's true all CFL front offices hold their breath every season in hopes their starting QB doesn't get hurt. The reason the guy is the starter, after all, is because he's been judged the best available option and the man most most likely to win games.

But what makes Winnipeg different than every other team in the CFL this season is that not only are they going with the least experienced starting QB in the entire nine-team league, they're backing him up with the least experienced backups too.

All eight of the other teams in the CFL this season have backups with previous CFL experience -- and some of them have multiple such backups.

And that fact has already come into major play in B.C. where starter Travis Lulay is recuperating from shoulder surgery and backup Kevin Glenn will be under centre this weekend as the Lions open their regular season.

The Bombers, of course, could have had Glenn as a backup for themselves this season, but Winnipeg GM Kyle Walterss balked at the price the Ottawa Redblacks were asking for Glenn, which ultimately turned out to be BC's first round pick in last month's draft.

Instead, the Bombers are opting to go with Brian Brohm and Robert Marve, who come to the Bombers with deep resumés in the American game but a whole lot of white space when it comes to three-down football.

That's a concern because no fans in football have learned the importance of having a qualified backup more painfully than those in Winnipeg, where the oft-injured but much-beloved Buck Pierce gave fans fits for years before he was finally shipped off -- and ultimately retired -- last season.

But Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea insists Bombers fans need not be worried. How can O'Shea be so sure? He asks fans make the same leap of trust in him that he has made in Brohm and Marve.

"I believe in the guys we have. That's the bottom line -- you believe in players. If they show they're trustworthy, they're trustworthy. If they show they're progressing and getting better all through training camp; if they show they can learn and lead and move an offence, then you trust them to do that," O'Shea said Tuesday.

"We've done our due dilligence already. We've watched enough film, brought the guys in, taught them what we can teach them -- now's the time to show them confidence and let them go and show what they can do."

So what can they do? Well, according to Brohm, he can do whatever is required of him as the man who will be the first off the bench this season if Willy is injured.

"I feel ready. I've had a year to learn the Canadian game," said Brohm, who spent all of last season on Hamilton's injury list with a bad elbow. "I've played professional football for quite awhile, I've had a bunch of different experiences and I feel ready.

"I feel like this training camp was good for me. I got a lot of reps in this offence and I feel very comfortable in it. If my number is called to go out there and play, I will be ready to go."

A star at the University of Louisville who was once touted as potentially a first overall pick in the NFL draft, Brohm ultimately started two games in the NFL before shuffling off to the United Football League and, ultimately, Hamilton and now Winnipeg.

While a resumé as a former NFL starter is nothing to scoff at, it bears noting the CFL scrap heap is littered with former NFL starters who couldn't make it in the Canadian game, including the man Brohm replaces this season as the Bombers No. 2, Max Hall, who had four NFL starts.

While Brohm has never played a down in the CFL regular season, he did at least spend the better part of last season in the Ticats organization, where he says he absorbed everything he could from a couple of CFL greats in head coach Kent Austin and former Hamilton starter Henry Burris.

That's a lot more than can be said of Marve, who wasn't in football at any level last year as he recovered from the latest round of ACL surgery.

Like Brohm, Marve impressed the Bombers coaching staff this spring as a quick learner. And like Brohm, Marve showed in the pre-season he can lead a touchdown drive in the CFL.

But is Marve ready to actually play if the need arises this season? And it might happen because let's face it, it's not like it would be the first time the Bombers went deep into their QB depth chart over the course of a season, either because of injury or ineffectiveness or both.

Marve sounds like he's hoping Brohm and Willy can buy him some time.

"My mindset is I'm still in training camp," Marve says. "I've still got a lot to learn and I understand that."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 25, 2014 C1

History

Updated on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at 7:10 AM CDT: Corrects that Robert Marve's college was Purdue

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