Wednesday July 23, 2014

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Bombers coach, GM, say only wins will show whether they've improved the team

WINNIPEG - The coach and general manager of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers say wins are the only thing that will show whether they've assembled a better team this season.

"I want to say our fans are going to see a team that they're proud of, that regardless of the outcome on each particular game, that the fans are going to leave the stadium knowing that we gave it all," GM Kyle Walters said Friday on one of the conference calls CFL teams are having with the media as they prepare for the new season.

But there were no bold predictions as to whether the Bombers are a better team yet than they were last season.

"It's all words until we hit four wins," said Mike O'Shea, the former Toronto special teams co-ordinator preparing for his rookie season as a CFL head coach.

Last season, the Bombers tied their worst record ever in the 18-game schedule as they finished in the CFL cellar at 3-15.

"What does better mean?" asked Walters. "That's the beauty I guess of our line of work that better is quantifiable with wins and losses."

The team's on-field balance sheet shows additions and subtractions since that last troubled season ended. General manager Joe Mack got his pink slip well before the final game and coach Tim Burke was sacked after it was all over.

Since then, the biggest loss was defensive star Henoc Muamba. The Canadian linebacker who was Winnipeg's top defensive player, top Canadian player and top player overall in 2013 signed with the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL.

And one possible import replacement, former Tennessee Titan Gerald McRath, didn't pan out. He went to the team's mini-camp in Florida and the defensive staff didn't see what they were looking for in the veteran.

"It's not something we're worried about," said O'Shea, pointing to players still on the roster who can fill the hole.

The Bombers also lost Canadian special teams linebacker James Green and import receiver Wallace Miles to the Ottawa Redblacks in the CFL expansion draft.

They lost receiver and 2012 CFL rookie of the year Chris Matthews to the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL but picked up free agent Nick Moore from the B.C. Lions, the third leading receiver in the CFL in 2013.

They traded Canadian receiver Kito Poblah to the Lions for defensive back and four-time CFL all-star Korey Banks.

The Bombers lost free agent offensive lineman Justin Sorensen, last season's starter at centre, to the Edmonton Eskimos and are looking to use their second overall pick next week to select someone in the CFL draft they hope can be a starting centre.

Overall though, Walters says this year's draft offers a diminished pool because of rule changes regarding the NFL draft and red-shirted freshmen.

"You're going to see some real good players drafted next week," he said. "There's just not the depth."

The Bombers also struck out in every bid to land a bona fide starting CFL quarterback, although they insist they're thrilled with former Saskatchewan backup Drew Willy, who has been guaranteed the job even before training camp starts.

Both Walters and O'Shea were emphatic Friday that nothing will change that.

"He demonstrated down in Florida to be very accurate," said O'Shea.

"He's not afraid to go down field . . . He took risks in practice. He didn't try to play it safe. . . He absorbed the playbook very quick. He showed some leadership, I don't forsee that changing from the start of training camp to the end."

O'Shea said they're not going into camp with a wait-and-see attitude.

"What we've done in the off-season I believe is showing that we're not waiting to see what's going to happen next, we're taking a real active step in creating what we want to happen next," he said.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly states that the Blue Bombers lost Rory Kolhert to the Redblacks in the expansion draft. He actually re-signed with Winnipeg as a free agent.


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