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CFL.ca presents ‘Off-Season Depth Chart’, a series of articles reviewing every team’s depth chart going into training camp. Note that these are not official team-issued depth charts, but projections based on insight and analysis from around the league. Additionally, 2019 draft picks are not included.
WINNIPEG — On a long list of factors that have led to the rise of the Blue Bombers, one might choose to start with their Canadian talent.
General Manager Kyle Walters has given the franchise quite a face lift since arriving in 2013, building a national talent base, both through the draft and free agency, that’s as strong as any in the three-down game.
The question going into camp this year once again comes down to the ratio, which, from the Bombers’ perspective, is a good problem to have. Head Coach Mike O’Shea could start a Canadian in as many as nine positions going into the season, which should lead to plenty of competition for starting jobs throughout the month of May.
With the Bombers on the brink of greatness following a trip to the Western Final, this is the year many expect them to take another step and make a strong push for a West Division title.
With that, let’s start with the offensive depth chart in Winnipeg:
*Note: Offensive depth chart has since been updated with the addition of receiver Chris Matthews.
Chosen second overall in back to back years, offensive linemen Matthias Goossen and Sukh Chungh were considered franchise pillars for the Bombers. There’s a reason their arrival coincided with the club’s recent emergence as an annual contender, as the Bombers went from allowing a franchise-worst 70 sacks in 2014 to boasting one of the most dominant offensive lines in the CFL.
The Bombers’ ability to move on following their departure this off-season will be indicative of their ability to identify and develop Canadian talent. Projected starting centre Michael Couture was a 10th overall pick in 2016 and has been groomed for the role for three years, while Geoff Gray, who’s expected to fight for a chance to start in Chungh’s spot at right guard, may have been a first overall pick had he not been on the NFL radar in 2018.
With the Bombers’ ability to start three Canadian players on the O-line — or move American Manase Foketi to guard if it suits them better — quarterback Matt Nichols should have plenty of faith in his protection this season. The national-powered backfield, meanwhile, should have plenty of holes to run through, with Johnny Augustine and this year’s second round pick Brady Oliveira ready to go should anything happen to Canadian bell cow Andrew Harris.
The biggest position of interest in Bombers camp this year will be at receiver. Darvin Adams is part of an elite class of boundary wideouts in the CFL, but he could move to the slot after the recent signing of Chris Matthews. The late addition addresses a significant off-season need in Winnipeg after the Bombers couldn’t land the big fish in free agency. While Adams and Matthews are definite starters, there could be openings elsewhere as Kenbrell Thompkins, Corey Washington and others compete for the chance to start.
While the Bombers are in for a competitive camp on the offensive side of the ball, the same can be said for the defence, which has seen some notable changes since last November:
Much has been made about Taylor Loffler‘s move from Winnipeg to Montreal over the winter, and rightly so after he had been named a CFL All-Star three years running. However, the defence looks to be in good hands at the safety position with Derek Jones, who’s entering his sixth season in the league. How much do the Bombers like Jones? Walters said the sixth-year safety actually pushed Loffler for the starting safety job a year ago in camp.
In any case, defensive coordinator Richie Hall has witnessed quite the transformation in his secondary over the last couple of years. Brandon Alexander, 25, and Marcus Sayles, 24, are now the veterans of the group along with SAM linebacker Anthony Gaitor. Free agent addition Winston Rose is a candidate to start at field corner, leaving one spot in the defensive backfield open for competition.
Middle linebacker Adam Bighill is coming off a career year, recording 105 tackles, two interceptions and four forced fumbles in his first season in Winnipeg. But the anchor of the Bombers’ defence will have a new partner beside him, as Jovan Santos-Knox signed with the Eskimos in free agency. Kyrie Wilson may be the front-runner for the WILL linebacker spot, but he won’t go unchallenged in camp.
On the defensive line the Bombers have the option to start four Americans if they so choose. Marquee free agent signing Willie Jefferson forms a terrifying duo opposite of Jackson Jeffcoat, with Craig Roh, who’s coming off a career-high eight sacks last season, joining them in the rotation. Brandin Bryant and Drake Nevis provide size and physicality on the interior, though Canadian Jake Thomas appears to be in the running to start.