Rolls with punch

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:57 AM ET

Sadly, one of the team's heart-and-soulers is bowing out as a Blue Bomber with a whimper.

Winnipeg middle linebacker Ryland Wickman saw the writing etched on the turf when the Bombers brought in MLB Joe Tuipala a few weeks ago. Instead of making the situation tougher for all concerned, Wickman helped Tuipala and did not complain when the club asked him to go to the injured list to allow Tuipala to dress. But Wickman preferred to go on the practice roster so he will become a free agent as soon as Sunday's CFL game against the Calgary Stampeders is over.

"Yeah, it is a little bit strange," the popular Bomber said yesterday. "I've never really been in this situation but that's part of playing football. Stuff like this happens. I wish I was out there with the guys and I feel like I should be out there and leading and stuff like that.

"But hey, obviously, they want to make changes and maybe I'm part of those changes. So, I'm just going to come to work this last week, practise hard, try to give the offence the best look that I can, and see what happens at the end of the year."

Wickman, who turns 30 on Sunday, has recorded 50 defensive tackles this season -- third-most on the team. But he will have missed Winnipeg's last three games, including the stinker against the Lions in B.C.

The Bombers have expressed no interest in asking Wickman back. In fact, this will likely be yet another step in the changing of the guard.

Blessing in disguise

"I'm hoping maybe this will become a blessing in disguise," Wickman said. "I think the market's a little better for linebackers in the CFL. There's a lot of guys that might be moving and there might be a lot of teams looking for middle linebackers. Hopefully, with this door shutting here, another door will open for me. I'll find out soon enough."

Ironically, the Bombers could, or should, be interested in B.C.'s middle linebacker Barrin Simpson, who becomes a free agent this February. Former Bomber head coach Dave Ritchie is now the defensive co-ordinator for the Lions and has always admired Wickman's grit.

Then again, should the Bombers replace both GM Brendan Taman and head coach Jim Daley, Wickman could be right back in the mix again.

"I don't know what the situation is or what they're thinking about," said the 5-foot-10, 225-pound Californian. "But if all that changes, maybe the new guys that they bring in like me or think I'm a good player and will want to bring me back. But I don't worry about that kind of stuff. I'm just going to finish out the year and practise as hard as I can and see what happens at the end of the year."

Wickman was actually a free agent last year but chose to return to the Bombers.

"I've got all my buddies here, I've got a house here, my wife's got a good job here so, there's no regrets at all," he said. "I really liked (defensive co-ordinator Rod) Rust and his defence. That's one of the reasons I stayed here."

Rust left due to family health problems in August.


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