Wednesday 17 December 2014

Bombers Must Look to Recruit the Enemy

With the Grey Cup in the rear-view mirror, the offseason is now in full swing. Every team faces different challenges, and over the course of the next nine days we will look at each team individually and assess what they need to do prior to the start of next season. Today, we look at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Around this time last year, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were in the dumps. They were coming off an embarrassing 3-15 season and had cut ties with almost all of their staff. But then in came new general manager Kyle Walters, and the reshaping of the boys in blue began.

The Bombers got off to a great start in 2014, starting the season at 5-1. But then the wheels came off, and Winnipeg went 2-10 over their last 12 games, including a seven game losing streak, and missed the playoffs for a third consecutive season.

However, the Bombers still took two steps forward in year one of the post-Joe Mack rebuild. They found a quarterback in Drew Willy, a running back in Paris Cotton, a decent receiving corps, several defensive backs and a taste of what it's like to be on top of the CFL. Many core players are in place, so now all Walters needs to do is find a few more and build around them. Turns out, those players may have been wearing green and white in Riderville this past season.

Not all players took a step forward in 2014. Many failed to capitalize on opportunities or found there was no room for them to succeed from a roster standpoint. The majority are defensive players, as I'm sure defensive coordinator Gary Etcheverry and Walters realize Big Blue needs bigger players. Etcheverry's odd scheme that included small and speedy players was solved by teams in the second half of the season. The solution was easy: give the ball to your backs to power up the middle. Walters will need to let go of his smaller defenders, as well as move on from certain underachieving offensive players in order to find success in 2015.

Time to say goodbye to

Demond Washington, defensive back
Washington is an extremely talented athlete, as was shown against Calgary when he was used as a slotback on end-arounds, but the same cannot be said regarding his game as a cover-man. Washington is 5'9”, making him useless in nickel packages and against bigger slotbacks. It's time to move on from him and bring in someone bigger.

Desia Dunn, linebacker/defensive back
Again, talent is not the issue, size is. Also at 5'9”, Dunn is no more useful than Washington as a defensive back, and at SAM linebacker, the Bombers are better off with both Johnny Sears and Teague Sherman.

Aaron Kelly, receiver
Kelly seemed like a reliable target for Drew Willy early on – he had the first 100-yard receving game of the 2014 season – but then flashed the same inconsistency that plagued him in Hamilton, and was virtually useless when going across the middle. Kelly was scratched in a handful of games near the end of the season in favour of Rory Kohlert and Cory Watson. The Bombers are better off cutting ties with Kelly and signing a receiver in free agency.

Zach Andersen, defensive tackle
Defensive line is a position I expect Walters to make drastic changes in. They need a true stud big man in middle, and Andersen, coming off a severe knee injury, is not the guy. He had flashes as a solid defensive tackle behind Bryant Turner, Jr., however I think Turner, Jr. will be pushed into a No. 2 role after Walters brings in a new lineman.

Carl Volny, running back
There are simply way too many good backup running backs out there. The Bombers could bring in one or two for a reasonable cost.

Players to bring back

A successful rebuild does not happen without certain players having breakout seasons. The Bombers had numerous players who came out of nowhere, and it's time for them to get paid.

Ian Wild, linebacker
Wild registered 73 tackles, despite missing a month due to injury. Wild is a tackle machine – he recorded an astounding 14 tackles in the 2014 Banjo Bowl – who would benefit greatly with a move to outside linebacker. This would allow Winnipeg to import a big middle linebacker to clean up the run defence. Wild is an obvious re-sign.

Matt Bucknor, defensive back
There aren't very many positions more valuable than a starting Canadian strong side cornerback. Bucknor is a solid corner who managed to play and start all 18 games after coming over in a trade with Hamilton. If Washington is in fact not re-signed, the Bombers would need Bucknor even more. No doubt, re-signing Bucknor is near the top of Kyle Walters' to-do list.

Glenn January, offensive tackle
January didn't have a good season by any means, but he was playing through injuries for the most of the year. The Bombers will need a veteran presence on a young offensive line next year, including someone who will likely end up taking over his spot in one or two seasons. A two-year deal for "The Manuary" would be ideal, but he would also probably have to accept a reduced salary from what he has been paid in years past.

Brian Brohm, quarterback
What's better than one good backup quarterback? Two good backup quarterbacks! I would like to see Robert Marve take over in games if Willy gets hurt, as teams will not have game planned for his unique skill set; however, should Willy be forced to sit out a week, Brohm would get the start as he fits the scheme better. Winnipeg needs a second drop-back passer on the depth chart, Brohm will return.

Johnny Sears, linebacker/defensive back
The Bombers need Sears' hard hitting body on the field at all times, whether he is at SAM linebacker on passing downs or free safety in cover 2 coverages. Sears was limited due to injuries in 2014, but made the most of his return late in the season.

Potential new faces in the Blue and Gold

Tristan Jackson, defensive back, Saskatchewan
Jackson is officially listed as a defensive back despite playing all of 2014 at corner, where his coverage skills have now matched his return skills. The Bombers should make room for Jackson; whether they need to move him to DB, put him ahead of Bucknor at corner or simply move Bucknor entirely to DB. Jackson is an upgrade in all phases compared to Washington, and is likely not going to be back in Riderville considering all the free agents they need to sign.

Ben Heenan, offensive lineman, Saskatchewan
If Weston Dressler stays, Ben Heenan goes. The Riders can afford to let him walk as Dan Clark, should he be re-signed, is capable of replacing him. In Winnipeg, Patrick Neufeld would be pushed to right tackle, as Mathias Goossen will take over newly re-signed Chris Greaves' spot at right guard while Heenan will replace Neufeld at guard.

Shawn Lemon, defensive end, Calgary
Winnipeg's greatest weak point was the defensive line, as the team finished last in sacks in 2014. Lemon would boost that stat tremendously, as he finished tied for second in the league with 13 sacks. In Winnipeg, Jason Vega struggled all year opposite Greg Peach at defensive end and no depth players stepped up. Lemon would transform Winnipeg's pass rush immediately.

Korey Williams, receiver, Saskatchewan
Williams showed flashes of potential after starting receiver Taj Smith went down with a broken collarbone. A tall wide receiver could help Winnipeg's red zone woes. Williams would be a huge upgrade for the Bombers at receiver.

Trevor Guyton, defensive tackle, Saskatchewan
Guyton was mainly a backup for the Riders behind Tearrius George in 2014, but he still managed to record 36 tackles and three sacks in a limited role. Guyton would be a good replacement for Andersen, and would help with the Bombers' run defence problems.

If Walters can sign even three of the above players, and add some depth players, expectations in Winnipeg will skyrocket.

Other offseason "To-Do's" for Winnipeg would be to fire both defensive and offensive coordinators before it's too late. George Cortez and Richie Hall, both formerly of the Roughriders, would be great fits for Winnipeg. Gary Etcheverry's and Marcel Bellefeuille’s schemes certainly slowed down the Bombers in 2014. There is a good group of players in Winnipeg, so to maximize the roster changes must be made to the coaching staff.

While it may be unrealistic to expect a Grey Cup championship in 2015 – when the game will be played at Winnipeg’s Investors Group Field – expecting a playoff appearance, and at least one victory, isn’t unreasonable.

Fans can no longer blame the team’s failures on Joe Mack, as Winnipeg has cut ties with a vast majority of the coaches and players who have ever had his name of their contract. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers now rest in the hands of Kyle Walters and his coach, Mike O'Shea. The success or failure of the franchise rests solely on their shoulders.

This winter, the Bombers should look to steal some players from one province west to make their Grey Cup aspirations that much more realistic.


  1. Shawn Lemon has had 6 NFL team tryouts and will surely be headed south

  2. Willy is a very good qb. The talent around him not so much.

    I like Aaron Kelly. He had a concussion here and wasn't used very much after that. He's got the size and speed. He just needs to fine tune his game. Everyone struggled after 6 games in Winnipeg. He's still young and has a lot of potential