WINNIPEG — There’s no shortage of players trying out for a receiver’s slot on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Nine players, seven of whom are American, are competing for the spot at rookie camp.
“It was extremely crowded yes,” said American Chris Matthews with a laugh.
Matthews, who at six foot five weighs in at 220 and still manages to look skinny, has already caught the eye of coach Paul LaPolice, who wants a receiving corps with a good blend of height and a few “little fast guys.”
The hole he has to fill was created when Edmonton swiped free agent Greg Carr from the Bombers in February.
LaPolice likes the way the new height on his roster moved on day two of rookie camp at Canad Inns Stadium, where the Bombers must play until their new field is finished in September.
“They can change direction very well, I was impressed with that,” he said. “Matthews has got some fluidity for a big kid, all of them actually do. We’ll en gross them in the system and see how they play.”
While he may have only one hole to fill, LaPolice said he could keep another two players around.
“Last year we kept one receiver on the reserve and we kept one on the practice roster as well, so there’s a possibility of three new American faces staying here.”
There are also two Canadian wide receivers in camp, Saskatoon’s Rory Kohlert and Cassidy Doneff of Cochrane, Alta.
At 6-6 and 215 pounds, Doug Pierce out of Friends University in Kansas also made some impressive moves on the crowded field and stirs thoughts of a Pierce-to-Pierce offence, since he carries the same name as No. 1 Winnipeg pivot Buck Pierce.
Kurt Adams, 6-5, out of Harding is making a return trip after spending part of last year on Winnipeg’s practice roster.
Matthews, a 22-year-old-native of Long Beach, Ca., said American kids pick up their football moves pretty early.
“From 10 or 12 years old you’re going out there, you’re learning the plays, you’re learning your stance and starts, you’re learning to do certain things that help you to be a really good wide receiver. . .
“A lot of us are big receivers and a lot of us are still moving like five-five.”
Just about everybody was catching balls Thursday.
Matthews said even he was impressed by the moves of some of the wide receivers in that regard, notably running back Anthony Woodson out of the University of Calgary.
“A lot of running backs can’t catch and these guys can and it surprised me to be honest with you,” said Matthews.
“When I saw him (Woodson) out there catching the ball with one hand, whoa!”
LaPolice is no less impressed with his 2010 draft pick.
“We were excited about Anthony Woodson when we drafted him. We thought he was a talented player. He’s a great kid who’s already got his degree and is really somebody I think is a good athlete, so he’s an impressive looking kid.”
He’s also pretty pleased with another draft pick, Giovanni Aprile, a Toronto native who played at Queen’s and was selected 16th overall this year.
Aprile, who also played under the name Johnny April, was an outstanding receiver at Queen’s but the Bombers want to use him on defence. At 6-2 and 208 pounds, he had more size than any of the other DB rookies on the field Thursday.
“I think the short-term project for Giovanni is having a chance to play on all four special teams and be a physical player, and then the long-term goal is evaluate him to see if he can be a safety that can start in the league for a long time,” says LaPolice.
“There aren’t many Canadian free safeties that look like him and can hit and play physical and everything, and there aren’t many receivers I’ve seen as physical as him with range, so I told him today just to relax, there’s a lot of time, just go learn.”