June 5, 2019

Jobs still on the line in Bombers’ pre-season finale


The foundation has been poured and the framing and walls are up on the building that will soon transform into the 2019 Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

And yet, between now and Saturday’s league-wide roster cut down, head coach Mike O’Shea and his staff will have some meaty design decisions to make with their lineup.

All of that is a roundabout way of saying this Thursday’s final pre-season game in Saskatchewan against the Roughriders is absolutely, positively massive for those either on the bubble for a roster spot, or trying to lock down work as a starter.

“When you have a competitive training camp like ours with lots of depth, then there are guys who are battling hard for roster spots,” O’Shea said Tuesday.

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“We’re not sure — it’s not just me trying to put the question off – we’re not sure how the roster is going to shake down yet. That’s a good thing, to know that you have that kind of depth in camp and that kind of talent and competitiveness in camp that you can down to the wire and make tough decisions.

“… To me (the last pre-season game) matters. You need guys to step up and make plays. Within the framework of the call, within the framework of the system you need guys to rise and showcase their talents and playmaking ability.”

With that in mind, here are some of the spots still TBD – To Be Determined – as the Bombers head west to Regina…

Cornerbacks (x2):

The Bombers opened camp minus Chris Randle, who was released and signed in Ottawa, and Kevin Fogg, who landed in Toronto in free agency.

Chandler Fenner has been moved from the Dime/SAM linebacker spot to the field corner and looks to have one of the two jobs. Former B.C. Lions corner Winston Rose was superb early in camp before pulling up with an injury.

With Rose down – as well as Chris Humes, who started one game for the club last year – and reps available, Amari Coleman has been getting a lot of work there with the starting defence.

In addition to the above, still in camp and possible corner candidates (not including halfbacks Brandon Alexander and Marcus Sayles) are import defensive backs Mike Jones, Joe Este, Tyneil Cooper, Marcus Rios, Elijah Battle and Malik Boynton.

Receiver (1):

Four members of what would be a five-receiver set are locked in with Darvin Adams and Chris Matthews (although he is currently injured) along with Canadians Nic Demski and Drew Wolitarsky.

That leaves room for just one more and Kenny Lawler led the Bombers in receiving in last week’s preseason win over Edmonton, while Rasheed Bailey has been solid dating back to the free-agent camp in Florida in April.

Still standing along with Lawler and Bailey are Tim Wilson, Matt Hazel, Kenny Walker, Lucky Whitehead and Charles Nelson, while Corey Washington is injured.

Offensive line (2; centre/guard):

Lock in Stanley Bryant, Jermarcus Hardrick and Patrick Neufeld (who has yet to practice, but is expected to be ready for Week 1) along the O-line.

Michael Couture and Cody Speller were in a dogfight for the starting centre job vacated with the retirement of Matthias Goossen, but Couture has been getting more work with the starting offence of late.

The club still loves Speller’s skillset, however, and he has been getting a lot of looks at both right and left guard. Ditto for Geoff Gray, who has also worked at both guard spots and Drew Desjarlais, one of the team’s two first-round draft picks in 2019.

Still remaining: The development of Gray, Desjarlais and Speller has fuelled the notion the Bombers could go all-Canadian on the interior, with Tui Eli also there for depth. But don’t yet rule out the notion of there being three Americans up front, either for Week 1 or down the road. There are still four other import linemen in camp in Jamar McGloster, Israel Helms, Tanner Farmer and Delroy Baker, Jr.

Kick returner:

Lucky Whitehead has received a ton of pub during this camp, partly because of his speed, his name and his pedigree, which includes time with the Dallas Cowboys. But even though Charles Nelson was injured on Sunday and has not practised this week, don’t rule out the former Oregon star just yet.

No. 3 quarterback:

Matt Nichols and Chris Streveler are locks atop the depth chart, and Bryan Bennett looked very comfortable in his action in last week’s preseason game against Edmonton.

But newcomer Sean McGuire had his moments, too, completing six of 10 passes for 69 yards. If it’s about the now, then Bennett offers so much aside from his QB skills, including serving as the holder on placekicks and covering kicks on special teams. Yet, if it’s about the long-term, consider that McGuire is just 23 and just getting his feet wet in the three-down game.