Looking For More: Bombers hoping to go back to back
CFL.ca presents ‘Off-Season Depth Chart’, a series of articles reviewing every team’s depth chart as it stands to date. Note that these are not official team-issued depth charts, but projections based on insight and analysis from around the league.
WINNIPEG — If you look at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roster that played in the 107th Grey Cup and compare it to the projected starters ahead of the 2021 season, you’d be hard pressed to see many differences.
Is that really surprising, though? Of course general manager Kyle Walters wanted to keep most of his championship-winning team intact. If you were able to get to the final game of the season and take home the coveted trophy, why shake things up? Especially since the team is hoping to go back to back this year.
The Bombers were road warriors to finish off the 2019 campaign, defeating the Calgary Stampeders at McMahon Stadium in the Western Semi-Final and the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic in the Western Final.
And then they defeated the league’s best team, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, in the Grey Cup in Calgary.
The quarterback that had started that game, Zach Collaros, has complete control of the reigns heading into this campaign – especially since ground-threat QB Chris Streveler has gone to the NFL. Collaros won every game he played in with the Blue and Gold in 2019, including the regular season finale against the Stamps, the two playoff contests and the Grey Cup. Over those four games, the 32-year-old threw for 851 yards four touchdowns and just one interception.
Luckily for him, he’ll have every receiver he looked for in the Grey Cup back in action this season; Darvin Adams, Rasheed Bailey, Kenny Lawler, Nic Demski and Drew Wolitarsky are all projected to start.
Adams, the veteran of the receiving corps, was Collaros’ favourite target heading down the final stretch of the season – he hauled in 105 yards and a touchdown in the Western Semi-Final against Calgary and 93 against the Riders in the Western Final. He posted back-to-back, 1,000-yard seasons in 2017 and 2018 and will look to get back to that in 2021.
Andrew Harris will patrol the running back position for Winnipeg once again. The 34-year-old is coming off another sensational season where he rushed for 1,380 yards and four touchdowns to go along with 529 yards and four majors out of the backfield. The dual threat was also named the Grey Cup’s Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Canadian.
Protecting Collaros and creating gaps for Harris to run through is essential for success and the Bombers offensive line that helped the team to the Grey Cup is almost completely intact. Guards Drew Desjarlais and Patrick Neufeld and tackles Jermarcus Hardrick and Stanley Bryant will suit up in the same spots they did last season. That O-line helped Harris to become the regular-season rushing leader and allowed Streveler to sit sixth with 726 yards and tie for the league lead in touchdowns on the ground (12).
Starting centre Cody Speller was traded to the Argos this off-season leaving space for Micheal Couture to likely take over that spot.
Without star kicker Justin Medlock, it appears the Bombers will go with a new foot booting the pigskin this year. 2020 CFL Draft pick Marc Liegghio looks like the one that will take on the kicking and punting duties for Winnipeg while Janarion Grant is likely to take on the majority of the returns and Mike Benson should be the starting long snapper.
As for the defence, the front seven remains almost completely unchanged from the team that lifted the Grey Cup in November of 2019.
Jackson Jeffcoat, Jake Thomas and Willie Jefferson will line up in their usual positions on the defensive line but with Drake Nevis taking his talents to the Toronto Argonauts, there will be a new face at defensive tackle. Casey Sayles may be a viable option to take over in that spot but expect a battle in camp to see who will start at the position come the opening week of the season.
Expect Jefferson to have another monster year to build off of 2019 where he won Most Outstanding Defensive Player after collecting 12 quarterback sacks, two fumble recoveries and a league-high six forced fumbles. His 16 pass knockdowns also led the league and set a record for defensive linemen.
Things in the secondary look a little different without interception leader Winston Rose (NFL) and Marcus Sayles (BC Lions). Josh Johnson, who had a trio of interceptions against the Alouettes as a member of Edmonton in the Eastern Semi-Final in 2019, may take over Rose’s former spot at corner while Sayles’ halfback position will likely be a battle in camp to find out who is set to start there.
With the pieces in the place that helped the Bombers end their championship drought, head coach Mike O’Shea and co. will hope that they can repeat this December in Hamilton.