Rookie initiation

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:41 PM ET

Former Bomber boss Dave Ritchie used to have a theory about rookies, and it wasn’t exactly first-year friendly.

It was an old-school premise, and it went something like this: for every rookie in a football team’s lineup, you can chalk up a loss.

The way Ritchie saw it, sooner or later a newbie would screw up, and it was bound to happen at a critical time, costing you two points.

Paul LaPolice’s roster would make Dave Ritchie nervous.

No less than five players — Terrence Jeffers-Harris, Cory Watson, Andre Douglas, Alex Suber and Marcellus Bowman — were starting their first games as pros for Coach LaPo in last Friday’s season-opener, as part of 11 rookies dressed, overall.

Two more — Kelly Butler and Brandon Stewart — were starting their first CFL games, even though they’d spent time on either NFL or CFL rosters, so aren’t technically rookies.

Here’s the thing: Ritchie was one of LaPolice’s mentors, bringing him aboard as Winnipeg’s offensive co-ordinator in 2002 and ’03.

So Coach LaPo is well-versed in his old boss’s hypothesis.

But he says he doesn’t buy into it.

“You can’t blame a loss on one rookie,” LaPolice said. “ I love my main man Dave, but I beg to differ on that.”

The way Coach LaPo sees it, if you’re playing first-year kids, it’s because they’re good, period.

“It depends on the rookie,” he said. “I watched film and Jonathan Hefney made less mistakes (for Winnipeg) than a lot of veterans on the team last year. We had a kid named Weston Dressler (in Saskatchewan), who was rookie of the year in the CFL a couple years ago. He won us football games, he didn’t lose us games.”

Point taken.

But, as was often the case with Ritchie, there was a nugget of truth in his ramblings.

Heck, just look back to Friday, when one of Coach LaPo’s rookies could have cost his team the game against Hamilton.

Long snapper Adam Bestard had a miserable night filling in for injured vet Chris Cvetkovic, missing the mark on three field goal snaps and contributing to three misses by Alexis Serna.

That could easily have been the difference in a close game, and Coach LaPo isn’t about to take that risk again.

He cut Bestard on Monday.

Airlifted in, Taylor Inglis, who used to make his living firing a football between his legs for the Eskimos.

So Coach LaPo’s actions speak loudly on this one. Actually, his words on Monday did, too.

“With Adam being a young rookie in his first game, we wanted to give him an opportunity,” LaPolice said. “Taylor’s a veteran, a five-year starter.”

Coach LaPo has actually gone out of his way to make all his players feel equally important. In fact, he told the troops about his old boss’s theory, and that he doesn’t subscribe.

“He actually mentioned that,” rookie receiver Jeffers-Harris said. “I don’t think he’s even worried about anything like that. Me neither. There’s no tag or title over anybody’s head, ‘First-year’ or ‘Second-year player.’ He trusts guys that are going to do what they’re supposed to do.”

In his debut, the highly-touted Jeffers-Harris did exactly what he was supposed to do: caught all the passes he could (three), ran the right routes, even made some key blocks.

“I’m definitely not going to be part of the problem,” he said. “I’m here to be part of the solution.”

Playing mistake-free football, of course, is always the best answer.

But based on the early returns from the 2010 season (Adam Bestard, we hardly knew ya), that would be especially wise advice for the rookies to heed.

Because while Coach LaPo may not mind letting them loose, he’s certainly got them on a leash.

A leash that may not be that far removed from the old school.

Contact Paul at paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca or 632-2788.5


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