June 5, 2014

Irving: Winds of change make their mark in Winnipeg

Terri Flatt


If there’s a team in the CFL with more training camp question marks than the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, I can’t imagine which one it would be. 

All teams have competition during camp due to change from the year before, or due to poor performance from the year before. But when you have a season like the Bombers did in 2013, and bring in an almost entirely new coaching staff, very little will stay the same. 

So it is here in Winnipeg.

The Bombers have a new quarterback in the enticing, but still largely unproven, Drew Willy. Head coach Mike O’Shea says Willy has had a strong camp, and he was supported by current Bombers Assistant GM and Hall of Fame QB Danny McManus, who said Willy has what it takes to be a productive, winning CFL QB.

The debate over whether Willy can lead a CFL team on his own will likely be decided quickly, as he was declared the team’s started the day he was signed as a free agent. In fact, O’Shea hasn’t deviated from that stance one bit.

Beyond the quarterback position, the makeup of Winnipeg’s offensive line is uncertain, nobody know who the running back will be, and at least two of the receiving spots are up for grabs. 

Incumbent tailback Will Ford faces a stiff challenge from newcomers Paris Cotton and Ian Grigsby, while major free-agent signee Nick Moore along with Canadians Cory Watson and Rory Kohlert are the only receivers who appear to have spots nailed down.  

On defence, Jason Vega and Bryant Turner are the only sure bets on the defensive line.

Kory Banks and Ian Wild are likely starters at linebacker, and in the secondary, free agent additions Donovan Alexander and Chris Randle along with vets Alex Suber and Johnny Sears are the top contenders for starting spots. 

The Bombers suffered a major injury blow this week when veteran Canadian defensive tackle Ryan Lucas, projected to be a starter, was lost to a season-ending ACL injury.

There’s still no idea as to who the kicker will be, either. Veteran punter Mike Renaud is being challenged by rookies Lirim Hajrullahu from Western and Brett Maher from Nebraska.

Change is not unusual in pro sport. There will be lots of it in Winnipeg this year.