Blue below average

JIM BENDER and KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:20 AM ET

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers can thank their lucky stars for the Calgary Stampeders and Ottawa Renegades.

The Winnipeg Sun's annual Blue and Gold report card hands out failing grades only if a certain part of their team is deemed the worst in the CFL.

The Bombers may have been bad in 2004, but they weren't the worst.

Here's a closer look at each section of the 2004 Bombers, and where they need to improve to get back to the playoffs in 2005.

---

HOW THEY STACK UP

A: Top of the league

B: Better than most

C: Average

D: Hit the books

F: Worst in the CFL

---

QUARTERBACKS: C

Considering the circumstances, Kevin Glenn's 4-5 record as a starter wasn't too shabby. He completed more than 60% of his passes for 2,329 yards, he tossed 14 touchdowns, and served up eight interceptions.

Glenn's pro-rated numbers over an entire season (based on his eight consecutive starts at the end of 2004) are: a 9-9 record, 288-of-468 passing for a 61.5% completion percentage, 4,230 yards, 25 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

The former starter, Khari Jones, brings the grade down because of his less-than-impressive start. He was 3-6 as the starter, tossing seven touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Stanley Jackson threw just 12 passes in relief and Tee Martin didn't play at all.

Glenn deserves to start 2005 as No. 1 to see what he can do from the beginning of a season, but Martin might have something to say about that if he doesn't get an invitation to an NFL training camp.

RUNNING BACKS: B+

Charles Roberts is the man.

Winnipeg's most outstanding player -- for the second straight year -- also cleared the 1,500 mark for the second straight season (1,522 yards and eight TDs). That made him the top rusher in the West Division by a wide margin.

At the fullback position, Randy Bowles didn't work out and Wade Miller provided effective blocking only. Newcomer Scott Regimbald can both clear space for Roberts and barrel into the end zone and re-signing him is a must.

If Regimbald had been in Winnipeg all season, this position would get an A instead of a B.

OFFENSIVE LINE: C

It was a rare year for the offensive line, because only one player -- Dan Gyetvai -- got hurt.

The Bombers used only three different starting combinations in 2004, compared to six in 2003. However, it wasn't until the fear of losing their jobs was instilled in late August that the hogs picked up their play.

Aside from allowing five sacks against Montreal on Sept. 25, the O-line surrendered just four sacks in the other seven games to end the season. Helping Roberts eclipse the 1,500-yard rushing mark deserves kudos as well.

This group got a C- in the mid-season report, so the improvement deserves a better mark.

It would help the ratio situation to have an all-Canadian O-line, but right guard Orlando Bobo played well. Re-signing free agent Matt Sheridan, the left guard, should be a top priority.

RECEIVERS: C

Believe it or not, the Bombers had more receiving yards in 2004 than in 2003.

That does not mean there weren't problems.

Leading the way, once again, was slotback Milt Stegall, who hauled in a solid 68 passes for 1,121 yards, but his six touchdowns were well below his season average.

Jamie Stoddard asserted himself as a reliable starting slotback and Keith Stokes, who should have been used more, played well when he was on offence.

After that, highly touted slotback Kamau Peterson and veteran wideout Robert Gordon had sub-par seasons. Rookie wideout Derrick Smith was decent but had trouble running routes and finished the season on the injured list. Reggie Jones, meanwhile, was cut.

DEFENSIVE LINE: D

If you're going to finish last in the league in sacks, you better be great against the run.

The Bombers finished second-last in sacks, and they were third-worst against the run -- not a good combination.

Tackle Doug Brown was the bright spot. Rookie Tom Canada faded in the last third of the season, and how many times did he and fellow end Elfrid Payton have a quarterback squarely in their sights, only to let him slip through their fingers?

And let's face it: Not getting a lot of pressure on the quarterback didn't help the poor secondary, which got eaten alive.

Re-signing free agent tackle Joe Fleming, a late-season acquisition, is a must.

LINEBACKERS: C

Maurice Kelly, who led the team with 64 tackles, was the cream of the crop, Lamar McGriggs came on towards the end of the season, Ryland Wickman, when he wasn't dealing with a separated shoulder, played his usual inspirational football and was strong against the run, and Terry Ray is retiring after an injury-plagued campaign.

This group, however, didn't make the huge play, which used to be its strong suit. Kelly and McGriggs are entering their option years, while Wickman is a free agent.

There is potential for big changes among this group in the off-season.

SECONDARY: D

This is where the haplessness of the Renegades prevented an F grade.

Only Ottawa's defensive backfield was worse than Winnipeg's, which allowed a whopping 306.1 passing yards per game.

Halfback Ricky Bell was the stud once again and veteran Eric Carter, who missed the middle of the season with a torn arm muscle, led the team in interceptions with three. Recently acquired Wes Lysack should be a lock to start at safety next season, halfback/cornerback Justin Coleman has a promising future and Raheem Covington shouldn't be punted for one bad game.

However, when you allow that many bombs, maybe a major overhaul is in order.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B

Electrifying returner Keith Stokes could very well be voted the top special teams player in the league later this month.

Stokes broke the franchise's career mark for punt-return touchdowns (3) by racking up four this season alone. He also had a kickoff-return score. He had an impressive punt-return average of 11.9 yards and an average kickoff-return mark of 19.9 yards.

Placekicker Troy Westwood quietly had a fantastic season. He nailed exactly 78% of his field goals, which was the second-best mark of his career, and his 54.3-yard kickoff average was a one-yard improvement on 2003.

Rookie punter Jon Ryan, who was awesome in training camp, was just a little better than average during the season. His 43.2-yard average was among the top half of the league's punters, but a penchant for not getting kicks off on time must be fixed.

Meanwhile, the Bombers cover teams allowed just three returns for touchdowns -- two on punts and the other on a missed field goal.

COACHING, PERSONNEL AND MANAGEMENT: D

First, president and CEO Lyle Bauer left head coach Dave Ritchie twisting in the wind by demoting him and promoting Brendan Taman to GM last November.

Second, Ritchie and Taman didn't have their finest recruiting season last winter.

Third, Ritchie was a lame-duck coach for way too long before getting fired in August.

Fourth, many fans questioned the work of both offensive co-ordinator Ron Lancaster Jr. and defensive co-ordinator Mike Gorton.

Once again, however, it wasn't as bad as the mess in Ottawa.

When the smoke cleared, new coach Jim Daley gave it his all and posted a 5-6 record at the helm.

He deserves another shot.

Whether he gets it -- or whether he wants it -- remains to be seen.


Videos

Photos