April 23, 2018

Plenty of intros to come at Bombers’ mini-camp


WINNIPEG — Investors Group Field will come to life this week when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers launch their annual three-day mini-camp Tuesday in Winnipeg.

The Bombers are one of three teams scheduled to start their organized off-season activities on Tuesday, and while the workouts are voluntary and will not include offensive and defensive linemen (save for the centre, Matthias Goossen), most of the team’s big-ticket off-season additions will be spotted wearing blue and gold for the very first time.

Players and coaches are viewing this week’s camp as an opportunity to shake off the rust and get a head start on 2018 after five months away from each other.

“It’s hard to get that kind of work unless you’re around those guys,” said Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols. “To be able to get those few days for a crash course, it’s a big jump start for them.”

Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea will see plenty of new talent in this week’s camp (BlueBombers.com)

Nichols is entering his second full season as the Bombers’ starting quarterback and will be joined by newcomers Adarius Bowman, Nic Demski and Kienan LaFrance on offence. While recent addition Alex Ross will throw passes, veteran backup Darian Durant will not be in attendance due to a personal matter.

On defence, Chandler Fenner and Anthony Gaitor will make their Bomber debuts, while Maurice Leggett, just months removed from surgery to repair his torn Achilles tendon, is on the roster and expected to partake in light workouts.

Here are some of the storylines to keep an eye on this week:

A somewhat familiar face

The Bombers’ headline off-season acquisition will make his debut, but blue and gold are not unfamiliar colours for Adarius Bowman. Bowman signed with the Bombers after seven seasons in Edmonton, where he emerged as one of the league’s most dominant receivers.

Before joining the Eskimos in 2011, Bowman played two seasons with Winnipeg, recording 1,616 yards and nine touchdowns in 27 games.

Just as valuable as Bowman’s ability at age 32 will be his experience and leadership. He comes to the Bombers with 124 career games and 9,000-plus yards on his resume, adding to an already-veteran core that includes Weston Dressler and Darvin Adams.

This week will allow Bowman to get his feet wet in a new offence, although he’s already rather familiar with quarterback Matt Nichols.

“The big thing is I’ve played with Adarius and have a great relationship with him,” said Nichols. “It’s nice that I do have familiarity with these guys, we’re coming in and we’re not just starting from scratch.”

Leggett ahead of schedule

Maurice Leggett has said all along that his recovery from a torn Achilles late last season is going ahead of schedule. That was backed up on Monday morning when the team revealed its roster for this week, with Leggett’s name and number included.

The 31-year-old defensive back won’t likely be a full participant this week with the rest of his defence, but his inclusion is a promising sign that he could be ready to start the season with the team.

Maurice Leggett appears to be well ahead of schedule in his off-season injury rehab (BlueBombers.com)

Having Leggett in the lineup provides a significant boost for Richie Hall’s defence, especially considering the versatility he brings to the table. Both Leggett and free agent signing Chandler Fenner are among the best SAM linebackers in the CFL, but the ability of each to play multiple positions in the secondary could create nightmares for opposing offensive coordinators.

Keep an eye on just how much Leggett can do this week in Winnipeg.


The middle linebacker position has been a hot topic in Winnipeg, one of the long-rumoured landing spots for former first overall pick Henoc Muamba. The star Canadian ended up signing with Montreal, while the Bombers’ brass has said it’s happy to fill the position in-house.

That will be a key position battle from now until the end of training camp, and it starts on Tuesday as Jovan Santos-Knox, Ian Wild and first-year player Quentin Gause are among those competing for the opening.

“You’d like to think there’s open competition across the board, but obviously when you see the depth chart you can see the guys returning and where certain positions have a little bit more uncertainty,” said General Manager Kyle Walters. “Our linebacker spot would be one of those.

“We’re feeling pretty confident with the guys we have, but mini-camp is where we get to take a look at some of the young guys we signed and see them in person. We get to see how these guys look throughout mini-camp and all throughout training camp.”

Santos-Knox appears to be the favourite after a strong rookie season in which he played 16 games and recorded 47 defensive tackles, in addition to two sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble.

Added influence

Staying with the defensive side of things, the Bombers have said that Mike O’Shea will have more input on what that unit is up to this season. Those effects move beyond closed doors this week, as defensive coordinator Richie Hall takes the field with his group.

Many of the Bombers’ defensive starters will be present, including off-season signings Chandler Fenner and Anthony Gaitor. The team is hoping it can strike a balance in the secondary, getting stingier against the pass while still finding ways to make plays.

Free agent add Chandler Fenner provides plenty of versatility to the Bombers’ defence (Jimmy Jeong/CFL.ca)

“That’s what we’re working on,” said Head Coach Mike O’Shea, who brings a defensive pedigree to the table after 16 seasons as a CFL linebacker. “We have some very talented players back there who are ball-hawking type of players and with that sometimes comes a little bit of risk.

“We want to make sure that we still maintain the ability to take the ball away from the opponent because the ball really is more important in football than yards, but we still have to keep in mind that we’ve got to make sure we don’t give up the large amount of yards. It is a bit of a balancing act.”