Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Young guns learning on the fly by the seat of their pants

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FOR three seasons and change, Justin Goltz gazed up the depth chart at Buck Pierce, even as the older pivot battled injuries just to play the game.

Now Pierce is gone and 26-year-old Goltz, with just four starts in the CFL, is suddenly the most veteran Canadian-game quarterback in Bomberland.

"Buck's presence will definitely be missed in our locker-room," Goltz said on Wednesday, the team's first practice without Pierce around. "He's a great individual, a great human being."

Of course, when he was healthy Pierce was also the player all young bucks hungered to replace. So even if his trade to the B.C. Lions felt like a formality, coming after it was clear the Bombers had too many concerns floating around his fragility, maybe it loosened the leash on the least-experienced quarterback corps in the league.

"Us young guys kind of realize there's an opportunity at hand, and we're moving forward," Goltz said.

"It's definitely a clean slate, a fresh start... it opens up the door. It's kind of an eye-opener for all of us, that the opportunity is there and one of us has to seize it. Obviously, they haven't committed to one of us for the rest of this year, or for any extended period of time... I need to go out there and prove myself this week, or someone else might be in there next week."

Still, the 32-year-old Pierce was often spotted conferring with the younger pivots. His departure leaves the Bombers without the voice of someone who has been there and done that. The Bombers don't have a dedicated quarterback coach or any coach who was once a starting CFL pivot. Of course, they do have offensive co-ordinator Marcel Bellefeuille, whose resum© in CFL offences is miles long.

"I think he can get most of the points across," head coach Tim Burke said after practice Wednesday, and Goltz agreed.

"I think Marcel's done a great job of coming in and communicating exactly what he expects from us," the pivot said, and praised Bellefeuille's knowledge of the position. "He's done a great job teaching, and he's a great teacher."

Still, the Calgary Stampeders, Toronto Argonauts and Saskatchewan Roughriders -- all of which have seen splendid performances by rookie pivots this season -- and the B.C. Lions all have former CFL starting quarterbacks in their coaching ranks. If Burke spoke earlier this week about growing Goltz' in-game reads, how much would that be helped by someone who has lived those exact moments?

"You do miss that element of not having a veteran guy, or a guy who has played quarterback in the CFL as his mentor," Burke said. "I'm sure it would be a benefit. But we're structured the way we are right now and there's not much we can do."

Not much but let them play, and learn. Goltz said he keeps his off-season coach, former New York Jets quarterback Ken O'Brien, on speed dial.

Veteran presence or not, the responsibility falls on the pivots to perform.

"If you're asking about a specific quarterback coach for fundamentals, then I understand the lack of that," Goltz said. "But it's professional football. We got here for a reason, and we go break ourselves down every day and try to work on those things ourselves."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 12, 2013 D6

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