Beginning of the mend?
Blue hoping new acquisitions will start turnaround of broken team
GIVEN the horrific record, a six-game losing skid and the large shadow cast by a two-decades long Grey-Cup drought, most would suggest the changes made to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roster on Tuesday — four airlifted in, two shown the door — might be best described as:
A good bleepin’ start.
But with a new management regime at the helm, there is now a sense that for the first time in four years real roster changes have arrived and the depth chart, more than ever, should be scribbled in pencil, not ink.
“We’re looking at several positions,” said head coach Tim Burke. “Anybody that can upgrade or has potential to upgrade us, regardless of position.
“We want to be competitive this year, we don’t want to just stand pat. We want to compete this year... I mean, we’re only four points behind (third- place Montreal) as crazy as it sounds. So, we’re not out of it by any stretch of the imagination.”
The new faces in Bomberland are import receivers Mike Sims-Walker and Aaron Kelly, quarterback Jason Boltus and Canadian kicker Brody McKnight. Sent adrift were placekicker Justin Palardy and receiver Isaac Anderson. The 4-1-1 on the new arrivals:
Sims-Walker (6-2, 214, Central Florida): Third-round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2007... Led the Jags in receiving in ’09 and had 122 receptions for 1,648 yards and 14 TDs in three years... A star at Central Florida who was twice named an AllConference USA selection... Set school record for receptions in a season with 90 as a senior... Ran a 4.35 in the 40 prior to the draft... Twice had seasons cut short by injuries, had stints with St. Louis and, most recently, with the New York Jets but hasn’t played in a game since October 2011.
Kelly (6-5, 195, Clemson): Spent the last two years with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, starting eight games in 2011 and appearing in six games last year... Was released this May, prior to camp... At Clemson, Kelly set the alltime ACC reception record and also set school records in receptions and touchdowns as well as single-season records for receptions (88) and touchdowns (11) in 2007.
Boltus (6-4, 225, Hartwick College): Spent three years with the Ticats from 2009-2011, suiting up as the third-string quarterback in his final season and completing five of 15 passes for 48 yards... Worked with current Bomber offensive co-ordinator Marcel Bellefeuille with the Omaha Nighthawks of the UFL last year... Most recently with the Arena League’s Utah Blaze... Left school as Division III’s all-time leader in total offence.
Brody McKnight (6-0, 204 Montana): Canadian punter/placekicker originally selected in the first round (8th overall) by the Montreal Alouettes in 2011... Has since bounced around the CFL, with stints with the Als, the Edmonton Eskimos, Saskatchewan Roughriders and Hamilton.
Kelly’s familiarity with the CFL and Bellefeuille’s offence makes him a candidate to be in the lineup quickly, possibly as soon as Sunday’s annual trek to Regina for the Labour Day Classic. Burke said Sims-Walker — who is getting a crash course in Canadian football — will be evaluated in the next few days to see if he is ready.
But the changes are also, indirectly, about rattling some cages in the locker-room.
“It’s obviously going to spur people to play better, the ones we already have,” Burke said. “And then if these guys are better players then they’re going to play.”
The Bombers currently have three personnel types beating the bushes for more talent: acting GM Kyle Walters, director of player personnel Ken Moll and Drew Morris, promoted from regional to national scout after the firing of Joe Mack.
Sims-Walker might be considered their biggest addition so far, as he was just added to their neg list 10 days ago.
“Trust me,” said Burke, “(the scouting staff) is working very hard and I think you’ll see some more guys coming into the program soon.”