May 12, 2023

Five Things to Know: Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Jason Halstead/

As the 2023 season approaches, is here to catch you up with the Five Things To Know series. Each article will look at key storylines facing each team this season, while examining off-season movement and where your team might stand in 2023. 

In terms of deeming 2023 a success, there’s only one outcome that’ll do in Winnipeg: a victory in the 110th Grey Cup.

With where the Bombers are in their lifecycle, and the way they approached this offseason, anything short of a third championship in four years will be a disappointment. It’s a high bar to live up to, but it comes along with the territory in a city conditioned for success.

We all know Winnipeg fell just short of completing their dynasty quest last season as their drive for a threepeat was denied by Toronto in an epic championship showdown. But the Blue Bombers didn’t take last November’s defeat as a sign to go in a different direction.

Instead, this team is focused on one thing and one thing only: a fourth straight chance to play for a title.

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General manager Kyle Walters didn’t blink an eye this winter. Right from the get-go it was clear Winnipeg wasn’t interested in making wholesale changes or even minor tweaks. Walters went right to work in bringing back this team’s core to make a run at another dominant regular season and Grey Cup appearance.

Perhaps most crucial in all of it was signing Mike O’Shea to a contract extension. The beloved head coach is the Bombers’ emotional heartbeat, which is why bringing him back was a no-brainer. That said, it would have been hard to see Winnipeg running it back without O’Shea on the sidelines for a ninth season.

Mike O’Shea enters his ninth season as the head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Steven Hiscock/

Along the way, virtually every key player signed back, too. O’Shea and the Blue Bombers have created a culture and guys want to come back year after year. Even after a heartbreaking loss to finish their season, it became clear early what we were looking at.

On defence it was Willie Jefferson, Jackson Jeffcoat, Adam Bighill, Winston Rose, Jake Thomas, and Alden Darby Jr. agreeing to come back, among others. It was the same story on the other side of the ball with Nic Demski, Stanley Bryant, Jermarcus Hardrick, and Rasheed Bailey agreeing to new deals to go along with a multitude of key players already under contract.

And don’t forget special teams aces Janarion Grant and Mike Miller, who also signed new deals this winter.

We don’t know how many elite runs Winnipeg has left. But we do know what they’ve got their eyes on once again this year.


Can Zach Collaros do something that only one other person has done in league history? That would be winning Most Outstanding Player on three straight occasions, which is something only Doug Flutie has accomplished dating back to the award’s inception in 1953. Flutie took down MOP four straight times between 1991 and 1994, and now Collaros has a chance to join his very exclusive club.

Collaros was in a class of his own last season, throwing for 4,183 yards and a league-leading 37 touchdowns against just 13 interceptions. And with Winnipeg returning the pillars of their offensive line and essentially every key playmaker, there’s no reason Collaros shouldn’t put together another dominant campaign.


Speaking of those key returning playmakers, the Bombers actually went a step further by bringing receiver Kenny Lawler back in free agency. Lawler had a strong year in Edmonton last year before returning to Winnipeg, the site of his breakout 2021 season where he led the league in receiving yards. When you think about who Lawler is joining, it’s almost not fair.

Reigning rookie of the year Dalton Schoen is back for year two after leading all receivers in yards and touchdowns last season. Demski returns after his outstanding 2022 that saw him haul in ten touchdown catches in 13 games. The always exciting Rasheed Bailey, good for nine touchdowns himself last year, also returns along with the consistent and reliable Drew Wolitarsky.

Collaros will have no shortage of high-end passing options.


Hometown hero Andrew Harris’s departure after Winnipeg’s 2021 Grey Cup victory was as much about paving the way for fellow local product Brady Oliveira than anything else. And Oliveira stepped up in his first year as a starter by being one of three tailbacks to go over 1,000 yards. Oliveira finished last season with 1,001 rushing yards and five touchdowns to go along with 252 receiving yards and another touchdown.

Brady Oliveira rushed for 1,001 yards in 2022 after taking over for Andrew Harris (Christian Bender/

Now that Oliveira has a year with regular reps under his belt, I’m excited to see where he takes things this season. Oliveira doesn’t turn 26 until August and it feels like he’s just scratching the surface of what he’s capable of. With even more confidence coming into this season, I’m curious to see how much more dynamic Oliveira can be.


In a salary cap world, it’s just not possible to retain every key player, even if you’ve built the culture the Bombers have over the last half-decade. In recent years, names like Harris, Lawler, Darby, and Darvin Adams have been casualties of Winnipeg’s winning ways.

This year’s key exit is defensive tackle Casey Sayles. After two solid years with the Bombers, Sayles signed a big money deal with Hamilton in free agency. Sayles, who turns 28 in September, has established himself as one of the CFL’s most consistent and disruptive interior forces, so Winnipeg will likely feel his loss in the early going.

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