Tait: Bombers dive into scouting season
Kyle Walters had just unpacked one suitcase following a trip to Edmonton for the CFL Combine presented by New Era before stuffing clothes into another for his latest excursion.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ general manager was on the road again on Tuesday, this time headed to Fargo, N.D. for the North Dakota State pro day on Wednesday, followed by similar events at the University of South Dakota and South Dakota State on Thursday and Friday.
That Walters – along with assistant GMs Danny McManus and Ted Goveia and scout Cyril Penn – is out beating the bushes for new talent is hardly breaking news.
What is intriguing, however, is the reasoning behind the club’s decision to hit as many college pro days as possible: the addition of two professional spring leagues in the U.S. to the sporting landscape.
“The XFL and the USFL are taking more of the NFL training camp cuts and with that reality we decided to try a different approach this year,” said Walters while driving south on Tuesday. “That’s why Ted, Danny, Cyril and myself are trying to go to as many pro days as we can.
“There are usually a couple guys at these pro days who have been through the (NFL) draft and then if the NFL doesn’t work out for them in the next month, we’ve already seen them and we know they’re in shape. Then we circle back and look at the list we’ve compiled once the NFL Draft comes and goes and they might get signed or get mini-camp invites.”
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CFL teams for decades had relied on scouting NFL training camps in the summer for possible talent and then scooping them up around Labour Day if they were interested in coming north or signing them over the following months for camps a year later.
Players — both those coming out of the NCAA or having been to NFL camps — now have more options. Walters & Co. are rolling with the punches to adapt to the changing landscape.
“We had traditionally gone to NFL camps and put some names together,” he said. “To put it into perspective, the 2021 NFL folder had 120-130 players that in years past would be unemployed that we had seen in (NFL) camps and liked. They had nowhere else to play then.
“Now this year there were about 55 unemployed because of the USFL-XFL. They’re good football players. They had been in the NFL for a year or two, but over 50 per cent of them have signed in the other two leagues. That made us go, ‘Whoa’ because our traditional drawing pool has been cut in half. So, this was our plan – to hit more Pro Days and maybe look at guys who maybe didn’t quite get to an NFL camp compared to guys who got cut from an NFL camp.”
A couple other notes of interest from our chat with Walters…
On the recently completed CFL Combine in Edmonton:
“The talent was good – there were a lot of solid football players. With the players that were there, I’m not sure if there was an obvious Top 10, but there was a really solid 30. A lot of kids did very well for themselves and showed they should be drafted.”
On the change in Combine format to a five-day event from a three-day whirlwind:
“It was good. It was the first year doing it. I certainly enjoyed it more than in years past where the players came in, did their testing and then 10-15 minutes of indy and 10-15 minutes of one-on-ones and then everybody went home. This was much more detailed – there was a classroom setting where players had to learn, they had a day of one-on-ones and then the coaches coached them up and you could see who got better the next day. It’s heading in the right direction.”
On the Global prospects at the Combine (both the CFL Draft and Global Draft go May 2):
“Best that I’ve seen. The guys that were there were some of the better players I’ve seen, and that’s good.”
Included in the Global prospect pool are some intriguing defensive tackles, including Simon Sandberg of Sweden and Oregon State, Blessman Ta’ala of America Samoa and the University of Hawaii and Japanese sumo wrestler/footballer Hidetoa Hanada.
“(Hanada) was fascinating. He hasn’t played a whole lot of football, but you could see why he’s so successful at another sport. He has a very and unique skillset compared to everybody else and for a guy who hasn’t played a lot there were a few times you were saying, ‘Who’s that? Oh yeah, it’s that guy.’ He did well.”
On new kicker Chandler Staton, who was signed on the weekend:
“Mike (O’Shea) goes to the (Gary) Zauner kicking camp every winter. You have to be very good for Mike to come back and say, ‘I like this kid, I think he’s got a shot.’ Mike is tough in his evaluations and he came back and said that was the best group of kickers I’ve seen at a Zauner camp, and he’s been going to them for years. We followed it up and Danny (McManus) tracked down the agent, picked their brain and he wanted to come up and kick right away.
“As I stated before, at this year’s training camp we anticipate a kicking competition that looks a bit more like other positions. There will be a few guys looking to compete. The interesting thing about that position is you’ve got your (National), you’ve got your Global, you’ve got your American…the competition could be interesting because you’re not sure where the ratio is going to go. You have to think about the implications of potentially having an American kicker or punter, Globals and (Nationals). We’ll see how it shakes down at the end of the camp.”