Is stronger better? Bombers put O-Line theory to test
THE CANADIAN PRESS
WINNIPEG — When and if that new Winnipeg stadium ever opens, hopefully the locker-room doors will be made extra high, and maybe a little wider.
It would make life easier for the Blue Bombers’ offensive line, judging by the size of the recruits as the team rebuilds and plugs holes.
The size of those particular doors won’t matter until late in the season, if then, as the new Investors Group Field at the University of Manitoba is months behind schedule.
Instead, home will be the crumbling but familiar Canad Inns Stadium just west of downtown, where knocking your head into a door frame might break it.
“It doesn’t really matter to me, as long as there’s a field somewhere for us to play,” said Paul Swiston, who at six foot nine and near 340 pounds is the biggest of the prospects looking to land a job as a starter on that line.
They certainly are big. At 6-4 and 318 pounds, returning left tackle Andre Douglas is one of the small guys, probably not something he hears very often.
Swiston, out of the University of Calgary, and 2012 draft pick Tyson Pencer, at 6-8 and around 330, seem to be the shape of things to come.
“We’re getting some size,” said Swiston.
“I think once the young guys, including me, get moving in the right direction, I think it will be a quick line too.”
The next level down (but not very far) is Jordan Taorima out of Oklahoma State at 6-7 and 330, and 2011 practice-roster addition Justin Sorensen at 6-7 and 316.
Whether bigger is better remains to be seen.
Winnipeg lost a couple of key Canadians after the 2011 season, all-star guard Brendon LaBatte and veteran centre Obby Khan, both more akin to Douglas in size.
Khan called it quits at 31 after six seasons with the Bombers and a total of eight in the CFL. He plans to open a shawarma restaurant in Winnipeg.
LaBatte, however, just 25, cut out in his prime to return to his native Saskatchewan and play for the Roughriders.
Kelly Butler, closing in on 30 this year and more in line with the newcomers at 6-8, also retired after two seasons with Winnipeg and an NFL career that started in 2004.
Despite Winnipeg’s first-place finish in the East and trip to the Grey Cup, the o-line didn’t get a lot of respect for much of last season.
That was in sharp contrast to Winnipeg’s defence, which helped the cause with its own “Swaggerville” marketing campaign but also had solid results to back the hype.
Bomber general manager Joe Mack traded for a first-round draft pick this year to grab Pencer, a B.C. native who played for Washington State in 2010, with hopes he might some day develop into a tackle.
The team has left few stones unturned.
When Pencer reports for camp later this month, 11 prospects are going to line up, including bankable veterans like 6-6 right tackle Glenn January, entering his sixth CFL season.
January returned last season and made East Division all-star after recovering from a torn pectoral in 2010.
Swiston, who played left tackle with the Dinos, was on the nine-game injured list in 2011 and so anxious to make the team he hung around during the off-season, working out with Chris Greaves and Chris Kowalczuk.
Swiston said the result is a slightly trimmer figure, although the weight hasn’t changed a lot.
“I’ve lost a little weight and put on a little muscle, which is always a good thing,” he said.
“A little bit quicker, I’ll be able to move my body better. I’ve always got my reach, which is going to be huge advantage for me.”
He’s turning 23 this month and said the adjustment from college ball to the CFL was pretty big.
“Everybody’s bigger, faster and stronger. It took me about two months there to figure out how actually moving my feet before everything else I would be going in a better direction.”
But he has also received a lot of help from veterans like January.
“Those guys have been great. January and Kelly Butler, even Douglas,” he said. “They’ve even stayed after practice a couple of times and helped me with my foot work.”
Swiston has played tackle since high school in Calgary but has also been working out at guard with the Bombers with the hope of making the team.
“I love the tackle position,” he said. “I have a lot more fun out there. I love the one-on-one battles . . .
“I’m mostly just working with coach, and figuring out where my feet are going.”