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Homegrown gold

Why are the Stamps, Als flush with Canadian talent while the Bombers struggle to find seven non-import starters?

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/11/2010 (2477 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It's been 20 years since there was a Grey Cup parade in Winnipeg, two years without playoff football and nine seasons since the Blue Bombers finished atop their division.

Today, Free Press football writer Ed Tait provides the second of a three-part look at the issues which have long been cited as to why the franchise is in the second-longest championship drought in its history and the longest current absence from the winner's circle in the CFL -- a lack of depth in Canadian talent.

 Doug Brown is one of only two Bombers to be named the CFL's Most Outstanding Canadian in the last 22 years.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Doug Brown is one of only two Bombers to be named the CFL's Most Outstanding Canadian in the last 22 years.

 

THE ISSUE...

Why has the Bomber franchise traded so many Canadian draft picks and been so awful in cultivating homegrown talent over the last 15 years?

 

THE FACTS...

-- A Bomber player has been named the CFL's Most Outstanding Canadian only twice in the last 22 years -- Doug Brown in 2001 and Gerald Wilcox in 1994. Four times in the 1980s alone a Bomber earned this honour: Joe Poplawski in 1981 and 1986, Paul Bennett in 1983 and Scott Flagel in 1987.

-- Since 2000 alone the Bombers have traded away 23 draft picks, including eight first- and second-round selections.

-- The Bombers have had just two first-round draft picks since 1997 -- Daaron McField in 2000 and Brendon LaBatte in 2008. Over that span the Calgary Stampeders had 21 first-round selections including, amazingly, three currently with the Bombers -- Doug Brown, Jon Oosterhuis and Steve Morley.

 

Bud Grant got it -- probably before anyone in these parts -- and he was only 29 years old and had no head-coaching experience when he became boss.

But Paul Robson had it figured right as did Cal Murphy and Mike Riley.

And those four gentlemen all have two things in common:

1. They all have Grey Cup rings from their days with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and;

2. They all held close an old adage in the CFL that is still widely held up as an unofficial commandment of the three-down professional game -- Canadian players are gold; Americans are silver.

A question, then, that must be debated as we analyze a Bomber organization that has fallen on hard times of late:

If Canadian talent is so valuable and draft picks are a franchise's lifeblood -- even with the draft being an inexact science -- why has the club peddled its selections so carelessly?

Earlier this week, in our discussion with CFL executives about the Bombers we trotted out the number listed above to one GM -- the fact that Winnipeg has had just two first-round picks since 1997 while the Calgary Stampeders have had 21 and the Montreal Alouettes had 14 -- and his response is echoed by legions of the team's faithful who have watched the team's Canadian talent deteriorate.

"That can't be right," said the GM, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "Two picks since when? Are you kidding? No. In 13 years they've only had two No. 1 draft picks? That is a startling number."

It's a startling number for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is CFL teams must dress 20 Canadians for each game and start seven.

It's startling because the organizational approach isn't limited to just one regime, but has actually been passed down from the end of the Murphy era, through the late 1990s with Jeff Reinebold, through Brendan Taman's days from 1999 to 2008 and including last year's Mike Kelly regime.

And it's startling because while the Bombers struggle just to field seven quality starters -- and effectively back them up with Canadians -- many of their rivals now start eight homegrowns by choice. Those same organizations -- take the Stamps, for example, who now use Canadian tailback Jon Cornish out of the backfield with Joffrey Reynolds -- have far more roster flexibility than the Bombers.

Granted, not all of the trades were busts -- Winnipeg shipped picks to Calgary in 2001 to land a future hall of famer in Doug Brown -- and the club has been able to find some gold in the later rounds over the years including Troy Westwood, Matt Sheridan and current Bomber Chris Greaves, all sixth-round choices.

But, overall, the approach to the Canadian content over the last 15 to 20 years has been to slap a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. Case in point: teams that have stockpiled picks and Canadian talent have been able to take a flyer on prospects who may be headed back to school or are heading to NFL camps.

The Bombers, by and large, have been using their minimal picks to plug holes in their roster or to draft players who would morph into nothing more than special-teamers.

As one rival GM said this week, the Bomber approach is akin to somebody using one credit card to pay off the debt on another. It's short-term thinking often fuelled by the franchise's desperation and pressure to end the current Grey Cup drought.

Current Bomber GM Joe Mack, a guy who was around to see the likes of Poplawski, Bennett, Flagel, Chris Walby and Rick House -- among many others -- serve as the franchise's backbone in the 1980s, is promising to change that trend.

Mack has already visited and chatted with the coaches at a number of CIS schools and is using former Bomber Miles Gorrell -- who spent four years as the Toronto Argonauts co-ordinator of Canadian scouting -- to help beef up the team's college connections.

Bomber special teams co-ordinator Kyle Walters, the former head coach at the University of Guelph, as well as Kavis Reed and Jamie Barresi are said to have extensive Canadian college contacts.

All that said, this crew is faced with the same pressures of those before them: a roster of Canadian content that needs upgrading and a limited number of picks to help with that repair. Three of the 2011 draft picks, it's worth noting here, were traded away last year.

Some how, some way, that has to stop.

Canadians ARE gold. And the Bombers have to start treating them that way.

 

TOMORROW: Are the Bombers cheap?

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

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