November 12, 2008
Backing the Blue lineDefensive backbone should be top on 2009 to-do list
By JIM BENDER, SUN MEDIA
One of the very first orders of business for the Blue Bombers should be to get a line on their linebackers for next season.
Not just the middle linebackers, either.
Winnipeg's best outside linebacker down the stretch was a converted defensive back (Kelly Malveaux). That does not leave either strong-side linebacker Ike Charlton or weak-side 'backer Cam Hall with great bargaining chips as they are due to become CFL free agents come February.
Hall, 26, was the club's best linebacker through the first part of the season. In fact, he was one of Winnipeg's top defenders as the Bombers stumbled to an 0-4 start.
But, after middle linebacker Barrin Simpson suffered a season-ending injury, Hall had to help train Simpson's replacement, Joe Lobendahn, and take over the responsibility of calling defensive signals. Then, when Lobendahn went down for the count, Hall had to help Zeke Moreno ease into the Bomber defensive scheme.
'DO THE DIRTY WORK'
"I feel like, in the beginning of the year, when I could focus on me, I did very well," said Hall, who finished with 70 defensive tackles (second on club), three quarterback sacks and two interceptions.
"Then, I felt like I needed to shift my role on the team as far as leadership and tried to be more of a general. Not necessarily the one who took all the chances but be the one who needed to do all the stuff behind the scenes, do the dirty work to ensure that everyone around me was put into a position to have as much success as they could.
"It was definitely a transient situation. It switched from me just going out and running around and do everything I could do to just hit something and make a play to being more of almost a coach on the field, so to speak."
Hall, who can also play strong-side linebacker and safety, wants to come back next year, and the Bombers should re-sign him.
"I enjoy Winnipeg," he said. "I hope that things get worked out. But, at the same time, I have family and I need to do what's best for us ... The only thing you can hope is that you put yourself into position that you've reached some bargaining power and I feel like that's what I've done for myself."
Charlton, meanwhile, was hobbled by an ankle injury most of the season. He missed six games -- the most of his career -- and often played through the injury. But it showed.
"Hopefully, I get the opportunity to continue playing here, but it's out of my hands," said Charlton, who recorded 36 defensive tackles and four pass knockdowns.
"If they want me here, they'll go to the table and put together something where something can get done."
Charlton, 31, added that he could have gone to other CFL teams for more cash when he returned from his last NFL tryout but chose Winnipeg.
The futures for both Charlton and Hall will be tied into what the Bombers decide to do elsewhere.
You can probably say goodbye to Simpson as the club will opt to keep Moreno at middle linebacker. Lobendahn is expected to get a crack at playing weak-side linebacker. Malveaux, if he returns, or Hall could be inserted at the strong side.
The linebacking situation could depend on whether injured defensive end Tom Canada and/or DE Gavin Walls -- also due to become a free agent -- return.
The Bombers are also high on rush end Willie Evans, who finished the season on the practice roster. DE Kai Ellis can also play linebacker.
The bottom line here is that the Bombers need to bone up the backbone of the defence.