Three keys to Blue Bombers’ success

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During a recent four-minute radio bit, I was asked to come up with three of the most imperative, actionable items the local professional football squad needs to deliver on for a successful 2016.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/04/2016 (2329 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

During a recent four-minute radio bit, I was asked to come up with three of the most imperative, actionable items the local professional football squad needs to deliver on for a successful 2016.

While it can be difficult to sort through the chaff and identify these key kernels — as an obscene number of variables can impact a football season — it is an interesting and thought-provoking exercise.

It’s easiest to begin with what is sure to be a consensus factor for success for most any CFL team: the task of keeping your starting pivot clean and upright for 18 games. With all due respect to Matt Nichols — who does give the Winnipeg Blue Bombers an opportunity to win should a piece of starter Drew Willy break again — the franchise quarterback is still the quickest road to competence and to redeeming a ticket to the playoffs.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Winnipeg Blue Bomber Quarterback Matt Nichols looks through traffic for his target at the team's walk through practice on Oct. 2, 2015.

While the play of the offensive line is critical in keeping any pivot functional, the line should never carry this burden alone. If you give most defences enough of the same looks as to how and where your quarterback will operate in predictable scenarios, regardless of whom you have on your line, they will find a way to get to him.

The challenge will be as much about forcing defences to respect the run, having the entire offence understand the protection schemes, moving the pocket and changing the launch points, and having a crew of receivers that can recognize and adjust to the coverages and imbalances that occur. It all starts with the five men up front but it will take the entire unit to help keep Willy healthy.

The second core factor is the lag time it usually takes a new offence, with new players, to get up to speed. The Bombers simply don’t have the luxury of growing pains this year.

Each season, you are certain to hear defensive players play at a higher level faster than their counterparts on offence due to the different nature of these phases of football. Smart defensive co-ordinators working with a number of new players (Winnipeg’s defensive line will have three new starters) keep things simple at the beginning of the year and gradually add complexities and wrinkles. If your starting 12 on defence play fast and react instinctually, they are already three-quarters of the way to tapping their potential as a unit.

Conversely, because things such as timing, recognition and rhythm are critical for an offence to be productive (and there is a new playbook to be learned as Paul LaPolice takes over plotting the Bombers’ attack) this will be a large obstacle to surmount. Add to the equation they will be competing against some of the best defences in the CFL last year, starting in week 1, and this learning curve needs to be short and sweet — or it could be over before it begins.

Finally, the third major variable deals with the many new, high-profile players that joined in the off-season the Bombers via free agency.

From a leadership standpoint, there is a fine line between a player joining a football team and wanting to step up and lead and contribute, and a disastrous Casey Printers-type scenario (circa 2007, when he reportedly alienated three-quarters of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ room by assuming a mantle of leadership that had not yet been granted to him).

Rarely do all new additions understand the size of the contract you wield does not automatically garner you authority and a platform on a new team. When existing leadership ranks are merged with new personalities that are also used to leading the way, it is up to the head coach to clearly define roles and ensure group dynamics are as harmonious as they can be in such a testosterone-laden environment.

Outside of navigating these three ominous factors, a return to prominence for the Blue Bombers should be a piece of cake.

 

Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears weekly in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

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