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Blue Bombers settle kicking battle by opting to stick with two Canadians

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WINNIPEG - Two is better than one for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this season when it comes to kickers, at least when they're both Canadians.

Coach Mike O'Shea says they opted to stick with veteran Mike Renaud for punting and go with Canadian newcomer Lirim Hajrullahu for field goals and kickoffs.

He says American Brett Maher was pretty much in a tie with the Canadians, and as an import he needed to win all three battles.

"I said all along in that battle he had to win the job outright in all three phases and I think he drew even in all three phases," he said Monday after Maher was released.

"I think it was a pretty even draw. . . And the way our roster shapes up, that wasn't necessarily good enough."

But he says Maher is a quality kicker who should find a home if anyone watched what he did with the Bombers.

Renaud is entering his sixth season with Winnipeg. Rookie Hajrullahu is a native of St. Catharines, Ont., whose 402 points and 72 field goals are records at Western, where he played for the Mustangs through 2013.

Winnipeg's roster issues when it comes to the import-Canadian balance weren't helped any Monday with the news linebacker Graig Newman could miss the entire regular season, after suffering a serious ankle injury in their final pre-season game in Calgary.

O'Shea held out some hope he might return earlier.

"Graig's a guy we went after hard in the off-season and I'm not saying he's done for the season," he said.

"I know that's what's been said in the report but I'm optimistic and so's he and we'll see him soon. He's already in his mind figuring out his rehab and how hard he's going to work. . . Ask me again in a couple of months, three months possibly."

Newman was scheduled for surgery Monday after dislocating and fracturing his ankle in their 23-20 loss to the Calgary Stampeders Saturday night, the Bombers second pre-season loss after bowing 24-22 to the Toronto Argonauts last Monday.

"Graig is not only a great football player, but a great person, and our entire organization supports him throughout this process," general manager Kyle Walters said in a release. "We look forward to him beginning rehab and returning to the field as soon as possible."

The six-foot-one, 195-pound native of Langley, B.C., had 18 tackles and one sack last season with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He also had one punt return for seven yards.

"This is obviously very disappointing as I was really looking forward to being a part of all the new things going on in the Blue Bomber organization," Newman said in a statement issued by the team. "This is a great province to play football in, and I look forward to getting back out there as soon as possible."

The Bombers also cut veteran Canadian offensive lineman Chris Kowalchuk on Monday. He was entering his sixth season, although he had only played a total of six games over the last two.

They released three rookies as well, Canadian running back Errol Brooks and pair of imports, receiver C.J. Tarver and linebacker Kenny Tate.

O'Shea says playing both pre-season games in less than a week was tough and he decided to give the players Monday off.

"It makes it harder to practice right now," said O'Shea. "The guys had two games in six days, they're tired and they need a little bit of a rest."

He says it's still training camp mode in terms of their practice shcedules, but they're also getting ready for the CFL season opener, which will be played in Winnipeg against the Toronto Argonauts June 26.

The break is timely, O'Shea said.

"Our focus is cleaning ourselves up with the focus shifted to our opponent."

He also said he has no worries about how the offensive line is shaping up, despite some criticism of the way they allowed Calgary to get to their quarterbacks on the weekend.

"They're taking the techniques . . They're applying them in the game. . . By the time we roll into week one they're all going to be better and they're going to be better as a unit."

He also said he wasn't worry about a defence that lost the battle in both pre-season games.

"I'm not concerned at all. I know what we've put in and I know that we'll keep working. The effort's there, the buy-in is there."

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