Bombers' downward spiral

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:28 AM ET

WINNIPEG - You could blame any one of a wide variety of people if asked why it's all gone wrong for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Doug Berry, Kevin Glenn, Mike Kelly, Troy Westwood, Paul LaPolice, Joe Mack, Alexis Serna, Lyle Bauer, Buck Pierce, Charles Roberts, Troy Westwood, Brendan Taman, Buzz, Boomer, Stefan LeFors, the board of directors, Paul Robson, Ryan Dinwiddie or Troy Westwood.

You may very well be justified naming any or all of those people as the culprit, but you'd be incorrect.

The man who is responsible for everything that has gone wrong with the Blue and Gold? The man who is the reason the organization's Grey Cup drought has reached an incredible 20 years in an eight-team league? The man who destroys hopes and dreams of those in Manitoba more than Gary Bettman?

Why, it's none other than Kevin Eiben.

The Toronto Argonauts linebacker, you see, is the name that keeps popping up in the examination of Winnipeg's recent downfall, from 8-10 and a home playoff game in 2008 to 4-12 through 16 games of 2010 and a second straight year out of the playoffs. Eiben's name is at the beginning and the end of the team's current three-year slide. (Bomber fans better hope it's the end, anyway.)

Life could not have been any better for Bomber Nation on the afternoon of Nov. 18, 2007. Winnipeg was leading the Toronto Argonauts 19-1 early in the fourth quarter of the East Final when Glenn and Roberts fumbled a handoff.

Eiben dived for the ball and broke Glenn's left arm in the process. It's been downhill ever since. The Bombers officially hit rock bottom last Saturday when their latest No. 1 quarterback, Steven Jyles, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury that officially meant Winnipeg would miss the playoffs for the second straight season.

The player who hit Jyles? Kevin Eiben.

Not buying the Eiben Effect? OK, here are a few other reasons why it has all gone wrong for the Blue and Gold.

1. The Quarterback Situation

The CFL is a quarterback league, and the Bombers have had plenty of trouble establishing one of theirs as a premier pivot.

Kevin Glenn was one of the league's best in 2007, but he took a step back in 2008 (more on that later) and almost everyone (including yours truly) felt the Detroit native needed a change of scenery.

It's easy to look back now and say the Glenn-for-LeFors switch was one of the worst in CFL history, but that is a perfect example of needing to be careful what you wish for.

Kelly's director of player personnel, John Murphy, tried his hardest last off-season to acquire someone like Adrian McPherson or Jarious Jackson before he got fired, and Mack made a good move by bringing in Buck Pierce.

On cue, however, Pierce suffered a season-ending injury. The same thing happened to Jyles last week, although the jury is still out on his ability to be a No. 1 quarterback.

The QB situation, as of now, remains uncertain and a big question mark going into 2011.

2. Younger and Cheaper

The feeling after the Kelly firing last December was the Bombers still had a solid core of talent in place.

Mack altered that somewhat by releasing several higher-priced veterans, including Lenny Walls, Gavin Walls, Siddeeq Shabazz and, a month into the season, Ike Charlton.

Our belief is experience goes a long way in this league, and it's therefore no coincidence that the Bombers have lost a whopping seven games by four points this season.

Lenny Walls had seven interceptions last season; this year Jovon Johnson leads with three.

Gavin Walls may not have put up the number of sacks that Odell Willis and Phillip Hunt do, but he didn't take nearly as many penalties.

Ike Charlton may have lost a step, but he was a defensive leader. The Bombers replaced him with Bernard Hicks, who started three games, got hurt and then got cut. They accidentally found a solid replacement in Clint Kent.

The aforementioned young Bombers will get better with time. It just wasn't going to happen this year.

The difference between Jim Daley and Paul LaPolice? Only Daley admitted it was a rebuilding year.

3. The Mike Kelly Era

He was a renegade off the field, which some players said ultimately infected the locker-room.

The talent Kelly and John Murphy assembled was actually decent, although they got rid of a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Derick Armstrong and Romby Bryant.

Cutting Glenn and going with the unproven Stefan LeFors ultimately was a huge mistake, and Kelly's antiquated offensive system certainly didn't do the remaining point getters any favours.

Kelly's time was a big step back off the field and damaging to the Bomber brand, but it wasn't that destructive between the white lines.

4. Berry's Bumbling

Doug Berry came to Winnipeg as this great offensive mind from Montreal, but it was inability to fix his team's offence in 2008 that led the Glenn's removal from the premises.

Berry and offensive co-ordinator Kit Cartwright couldn't figure out how to get Glenn back on track, at one point letting him call his own plays. Not good.

Things picked up for Glenn down the stretch in '08, but he was poor in the East Semifinal loss to Edmonton.

Those offensive troubles were part of the reason why Berry got his walking papers -- despite being less than a year removed from a Grey Cup appearance.

5. LaPo's Learning Curve

Andre Sadeghian on third-and-two.

Justin Palardy's 51-yard field goal attempt into the wind.

Buck Pierce starting on a wonky knee.

Alex Brink starting.

Those are but a few of eyebrow-raising moves made by rookie head coach Paul LaPolice this season. Everyone is well aware that a rookie coach will have some growing pains, but LaPolice more than exceeded his allowed limit.

Simply put, he needs to make better decisions in 2011.

6. Canadian Talent, or Lack Thereof

The Bombers have always given away draft picks like Santa dishes out presents at Christmas. In fact, Winnipeg has had 23 fewer picks than it could have had since 2000.

The new regime vows that pick trading is going to stop and has made building the team's Canadian base one of its top priorities. To his credit, Mack has traded away any picks this year.

The problem, however, is the Bombers still have only three selections in next year's draft. Expect Mack to do everything in his power to collect more before May.

There are rumblings throughout the league, however, that the Bombers aren't exactly pounding the pavement when it comes to scouting CIS talent this fall.

7. Just Plain Bad Luck

Kevin Glenn breaking his arm in the East Final was probably the worst luck the Bombers have had in their 80-year history.

Buck Pierce getting hurt wasn't the surprise. The fact he tweaked his knee and dislocated his throwing elbow were. He had never injured those parts of his body before.

Losing your second- and third-string quarterbacks to season-ending throwing arm injuries is just piling on -- although the season was lost well before Steven Jyles and Alex Brink went down.

kirk.penton@sunmedia.ca


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