September 24, 2018

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Record: 6–7–0

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Blue Bomber Report (6–7–0)

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Focus on five at Blue Bombers' rookie camp

Former Calgary Dinos wide receiver Rashaun Simonise, 23, was the Bombers' first selection in May’s CFL Draft.

JEFF MCINTOSH / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Former Calgary Dinos wide receiver Rashaun Simonise, 23, was the Bombers' first selection in May’s CFL Draft.

Football is in the air and, starting Wednesday, officially back on the field.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are set to open rookie camp at Investors Group Field, welcoming dozens of first- and second-year players a few days early. The three-day rookie camp is aimed at giving newcomers a few extra reps, with the hope that once veterans arrive for the start of training camp Sunday, everyone will be up to speed and ready to compete.

It’s during training camp where jobs are won and lost, and every year there are a few rookies that make a strong impression – in some case, enough to carve out a significant role with the team, with some even earning the right to start. For those players, that journey begins Wednesday.

Here are five players to keep an eye on during rookie camp.

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Football is in the air and, starting Wednesday, officially back on the field.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are set to open rookie camp at Investors Group Field, welcoming dozens of first- and second-year players a few days early. The three-day rookie camp is aimed at giving newcomers a few extra reps, with the hope that once veterans arrive for the start of training camp Sunday, everyone will be up to speed and ready to compete.

It’s during training camp where jobs are won and lost, and every year there are a few rookies that make a strong impression – in some case, enough to carve out a significant role with the team, with some even earning the right to start. For those players, that journey begins Wednesday.

Here are five players to keep an eye on during rookie camp.

Rashaun Simonise, WR

He was the Bombers' first selection in May’s CFL Draft, chosen in the second round — No. 12 overall — after the Bombers traded away their first-round pick to the B.C. Lions. When the Bombers made the trade, they did so hoping Simonise, a big-bodied receiver at close to six-foot-five and more than 200 pounds, would still be there. They were genuinely shocked when he was.

That’s because there's sky-high potential for the 23-year-old, despite questions connected to his troubled past. He had a stellar collegiate career at the University of Calgary and earned an invitation to the NFL, where he was jettisoned after he was found to have been taking a performance-enhancing drug (the failed drug test led to his CFL eligibility being delayed a year, to 2018).

He’s been on the game’s biggest stage — flashing some impressive speed and route-running during his brief time with the Cincinnati Bengals — and the hope is he can regain some of that old magic after being out of pro football for much of the past two years. It appears he’ll get every chance to earn a prominent role, given the Bombers are looking to start two Canadians at receiver.

Drew Wolitarsky, WR

The player currently in line to occupy the second Canadian receiver spot, alongside Winnipegger Nic Demski is Wolitarsky. The Bombers surrendered their third-round pick this year to take the 23-year-old in the third round of the 2016 supplemental draft. Wolitarsky had a stellar career with the University of Minnesota where, in his senior season, he set career highs in catches (66), yards (860) and touchdowns (5). His 66 catches rank tied for second all-time by a senior at Minnesota.

After a spending much of his first season with the Bombers on the practice roster learning the Canadian game, Wolitarsky impressed the coaching staff in April’s mini-camp with how far he's come in one year. While the team was disappointed to have to cut ties with Matt Coates, who broke his foot during an off-season workout and wasn’t expected to be back until the end of July, it was likely Wolitarsky would have surpassed him on the depth chart.

Simply put, the loss of Coates means the starting job is his to lose.

Quentin Gause, LB

Quentin Gause, 25, has played with the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Quentin Gause, 25, has played with the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles.

It’s been the most talked about position on the Bombers for years. Still, for a second straight season, Winnipeg still doesn’t know who is going to start at middle linebacker.

Enter Gause, a 25-year-old with NFL experience, including stops with the Denver Broncos — where he dressed for six games in 2016 — as well as the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles. New to the Canadian game, Gause impressed at mini-camp with his quick-thinking ability. At six-feet, 206 pounds, he's big enough to plug the run and shifty enough to chase down receivers.

He’s considered to be among the frontrunners to fill the middle linebacker spot. But as we witnessed last season — and in previous years — just because you start at the top doesn’t mean you end there.

Zavian Bingham, DB

The Bombers have brought in several experienced bodies to help rebuild a secondary that surrendered more big plays and yards than almost every other team last year. While a lot of attention will be put on players such as Chandler Fenner, Anthony Gaitor and Steven Clarke — all of whom played games for B.C. last season — perhaps the one flying under the radar is Bingham.

The 25 year old has less experience than the trio mentioned above, but he’s been on the Bombers’ radar for some time. In fact, Winnipeg was about to ink him to a deal prior to last season, only for the Saskatchewan Roughriders to swoop in, put him on their negotiation list and then sign him to a contract. Bingham impressed the Riders at mini-camp and was again a standout during the club's main camp. An injury eventually led to his release.

Bingham was also impressive at the Bombers' mini-camp this year and he says he’s back to 100 per cent. He spent the end of last season on Winnipeg’s practice roster and, with a full off-season to work on his health and game, the Bombers are expecting big things.

Chris Streveler, QB

University of South Dakota Coyotes quarterback Chris Streveler (centre) set 20 new records for the program, including passing yards (4,134) and total offence (4,854).

ANDRES LEIGHTON / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES

University of South Dakota Coyotes quarterback Chris Streveler (centre) set 20 new records for the program, including passing yards (4,134) and total offence (4,854).

When Darian Durant suddenly announced his retirement last week, sending a ripple through the Bombers front offices, it was a considerable blow to the club's quarterback depth.

While it will be difficult to replace Durant, a 12-year veteran and two-time Grey Cup champion, his absence opens the door for Streveler, a player the Bombers are thrilled to have on the team. The 23-year-old pivot spent the last two seasons with the University of South Dakota Coyotes.

Last season, Streveler set 20 new records for the program, including passing yards (4,134) and total offence (4,854). He accounted for 43 touchdowns — 32 passing, 11 rushing — and was a runner-up for the Walter Payton Award, given to the top offensive player in the NCAA's FCS football.

He’s clearly got a long way to go and Matt Nichols is the undisputed No. 1 guy. But the potential for the Bombers, and particularly offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice, to potentially develop their own starting quarterback for the first time under this regime is certainly there.

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.catwitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

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.

Read full biography

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History

Updated on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 at 3:21 PM CDT: adds roster

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