Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 13/5/2019 (536 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
While the Canadian Football League and its player’s union work behind the scenes to hash out a new collective bargaining agreement by Saturday, the rest of the week remains status quo for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, with a three-day rookie camp kicking off on Wednesday.
There is one aspect of this year’s newbies gathering that might be tinkered with due to the unknown around CBA negotiations — the camp traditionally includes the team’s entire stable of quarterbacks, but whether starter Matt Nichols and backups Chris Streveler and Bryan Bennett will participate still remains up in the air.
The fact that none have confirmed their attendance, it appears unlikely they will attend unless a new CBA is reached.
"It's just voluntary, just for the quarterbacks, if they choose to come in and get some extra work," Bombers general manager Kyle Walters told reporters in a conference call on Monday. "I'm keeping all CBA matters at arms' length, referring all the questions to the league, and not even attempting to try to predict what players will or will not do. We're putting together bodies for a competitive camp and if something happens we'll adjust on the fly. I'm positive everything's going to work out in the end."
Though it’s unclear how the CBA siutation will unfold in advance of Sunday's scheduled opening of main training camp, there will be plenty of intrigue as the Bombers rookies get acclimated to their new surroundings over the next few days. The crop of talent will include mostly Americans identified in free-agent camps south of the border, as well as the Bombers crew of recent draft picks.
Six players selected in the CFL Draft on May 2 have inked deals – four of which signed on Monday – including second-round pick, Winnipeg-born running back Brady Oliveira out of the University of North Dakota. Three players are still in need of a contract, including offensive lineman Drew Desjarlais and defensive lineman Jonathan Kongbo, the No. 4 and No. 5 overall selections, respectively.
Also included in rookie camp will be the four "global" players that have been drafted in recent months, including three players from Mexico and Thiadric Hansen, a linebacker out of Germany who was chosen second overall by Winnipeg in the one-round CFL European draft last month.
"It’s nice to get their feet wet. They get into the organization; learn where everything is and just kind of go through a couple of days before the veterans show up," Walters said. "The ultimate goal is to give these guys the best opportunity to compete for jobs. So it’s a couple extra days of learning for them and then just to be able to get comfortable with their surroundings before the vets show up and the real competition begins."
Players new to the CFL are often overwhelmed by the different nuances of the three-down game; therefore, rookie camp is about finding a level of comfort before more experienced competition joins. It will also provide the coaching staff a chance to identify and learn about a number of new faces, some of which will be pushing for notable roles this season.
A number of players in attendance this week have already undergone a rookie camp of sorts, working out for the Bombers during a spring camp at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., late last month. The Florida camp didn’t include anyone from the offensive or defensive lines, made up of mostly receivers and defensive backs.
The Bombers were able to uncover a number of talented – and tall – receivers, one of which could push to be in the starting rotation come June. That includes Rasheed Bailey, a player Winnipeg is particularly high on, as well as Lucky Whitehead, Garrett Johnson, Matt Hazel and Josh Stewart, among others. They’ll be battling with second-year players Corey Washington and Kenbrell Thompkins, both of whom were with the club for all of 2018, for that fifth starting receiver spot.
"Coming from Florida and now getting to see those receivers with the veteran guys will be interesting," said Walters. "It's one thing to flash for a couple of days. The tough thing on offence is just to keep doing the right thing for two weeks. The guys we liked, it'll be interesting to see how they do."
Spectators will also get an early look at prospects fighting for a spot on the O-line, including 2017 No. 8 pick, and Winnipeg native, Geoff Gray. Gray, who signed with the Bombers late into 2018 after brief stints in the NFL with Green Bay, New York (Jets) and Cleveland, will battle for work at Sukh Chungh’s old spot at right guard. Another name to keep an eye on is Cody Speller. Many inside the Bombers organization believe Speller could push Michael Couture, the veteran and front-runner to take over for recently retired Matthias Goossen at centre.
With a number of openings in the secondary due to the to exodus of corner Chris Randle, who was released in January and signed with Ottawa shortly after, and safety Taylor Loffler (Montreal) and Kevin Fogg (Toronto) to free agency, there will be a few names at rookie camp that are penciled-in starters.
Chris Humes, who dressed for one game last season, is the leading candidate to replace Randle at boundary corner and will be attending rookie camp again this year. Tyneil Cooper, who spent five games on the active roster, will also be in the mix this week. Eyes will also be on Malik Boynton, a Detroit native who was most recently with the Memphis Express of the now-debunked Alliance of American Football.
Walters also noted that he plans to use a designated import as the team’s kick-off and punt return specialist.
Fogg and Ryan Lankford, the team’s return men last season, are both out of the picture and with receiver Nic Demski, who also did some spot duty in the return game in 2018, likely to focus strictly on the Bombers offensive playbook, the candidates to take over are expected to be in rookie camp. Those who will get early looks are Whitehead and Charles Nelson, with Nelson earning some praise for his showing as a return guy in the Bombers regular season finale in Edmonton.
"It's an exciting time of year for football," Walters said. "You're in your offices, plugging away at your work and it's nice to start seeing some players show up in town and start getting ready for football."
Want more sports?
Get news and notes from the local amateur sports scene in your inbox.
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.