Blue lurking in the weeds

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:59 AM ET

It was during Blue Bomber training camp, and head coach Jim Daley was just finishing his daily media briefing when the topic of expectations came up.

"Let's make no mistake about it," Daley was saying. "We are rebuilding. We can sugarcoat it and bull---- you, but that wouldn't be true."

Expectations, as Bomber fans know, can be a burden around here. Just ask former coach Dave Ritchie, who must have felt like he was lugging a sack of fresh manure around ever since his team went 14-4, then lost the Grey Cup, back in 2001.

Like Ritchie, Daley would prefer to sneak out of the weeds, striking like a snake that nobody sees coming.

Well, the new Bomber boss must be out of his skin over the pre-season predictions, most of which have his team finishing dead-last in the CFL West.

Expectations outside the Manitoba border haven't been this low since a guy named Reinebold was running things.

But how about here at home?

Are we expecting so little from this bunch that a fifth-place finish in a five-team race won't even register a blip on the noise-meter?

Puh-lease -- there's no way we should let these guys off the hook that easily.

Not with a core group of players that includes Milt Stegall, Charles Roberts, Dave Mudge, Joe Fleming, Doug Brown and Keith Stokes, all CFL individual award-winners.

Not with a GM like Brendan Taman, who helped turn the mess Reinebold left behind into the league's winningest regular-season team from '01 to '03.

And not with a head coach like Daley, who pulled off the CFL's version of walking on water when he took Saskatchewan to the Grey Cup game in '97.

Yes, this team has made changes, including a complete revamping of the secondary. If you recall the last couple of years, that's a good thing.

No, it doesn't have an established, star quarterback. If you listen to Daley and Taman, though, it's got three or four loaded with potential. And current starter Kevin Glenn didn't exactly stink it out last season.

So what expectation does the front office have?

"I just want to get into the playoffs and give ourselves a chance to do something," Taman said. "I think 9-9 or 10-8 will obviously get you in. And that's what I'm hoping to gear towards."

Taman doesn't mind conceding the top two spots to B.C. and Edmonton, assuming they live up to expectations. After that, though, he's not giving an inch.

"I think we have as good a chance to be third as anybody," Taman said. "I don't see us being that bad, compared to what everybody, oddsmaker-wise, says."

That doesn't mean Taman disagrees with his coach's "rebuilding" mantra. He just doesn't think that automatically means losing.

And it shouldn't.

Daley hasn't said it does, either.

Getting him to pinpoint a goal for the season, though, is like getting a politician pinned down on a hot-button issue.

"I think this," the coach began, choosing his words like a defence lawyer chooses jurors. "There's only one objective, and that's to win. You try to win the Grey Cup. If you aim for (less), you're selling yourself short. What's realistic today is for us to prepare with every degree of energy and focus we have for Saturday night. If we're doing something other than that, it doesn't matter what the goal is. You'll blur it.

"I'm totally intent on having tunnel vision."

Fair enough.

The rest of us, though, can afford a broader view.

And we don't see this team wallowing in the basement as an also-ran.

In fact, it had better challenge for a playoff spot, or there will be some explaining to do.

We could BS you, coach.

But that just wouldn't be true.

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PAUL'S PICKS

For the record, here are Sun Columnist Paul Friesen's predictions for the CFL West this year. Feel free to clip and save:

1. B.C. 12-6

2. Edmonton 10-8

3. Saskatchewan 9-9

4. Winnipeg 8-10

5. Calgary 8-10

Grey Cup winner: B.C.


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