Time to hit the books

JIM BENDER and KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:54 AM ET

Yes, 5-13 is positively scary.

"Appropriately enough, we're ending a ghoulish season on Halloween," Winnipeg GM Brendan Taman said yesterday.

But the Blue Bombers will not escape a frightening D grade in The Sun's report card before they go home to lick their wounds over the off-season and wonder if they will be back.

That means they must hit the books all winter.

And what do they expect when Winnipeg finished the CFL season at 5-13, with only one other team, Hamilton, worse?

Without further adieu, here are the Bomber grades for the 2005 CFL season:

QUARTERBACKS: C-

Kevin Glenn rebounded from an early-season injury to start posting some decent numbers, including 27 touchdowns -- third-most in the CFL heading into the final week. But his production deteriorated rapidly towards the end of the season and he had some very untimely interceptions. He finished the season with 231 completions in 403 attempts (57.3%) for 3,571 yards, with 17 interceptions. His efficiency rating dropped to the middle of the pack and there are those who are starting to wonder about his leadership thanks to his "whatever" attitude during media interviews, especially after a bad game or a loss.

But for the B.C. game, Russ Michna showed some promise in a backup role. However, Tee Martin never got a chance to make amends for his struggles as an injury-replacement for Glenn.

RUNNING BACKS: A

It is simply incredible that a last-place team will likely still boast the leading rusher in the CFL once the regular season ends next week. In fact, Charles Roberts bettered his personal best when he finished the year with 1,624 yards -- the third highest total in club history. That's a 5.6-yard average and he added 12 touchdowns to boot. No telling how many yards he would have racked up if Roberts had been part of the gameplan more often.

Keeping this mark from an A-plus, though, is the constant failure to convert short-yardage situations, which makes one wonder why 6-foot-3, 246-pound fullback Scott Regimbald is so seldom on the field when the Bombers need that extra beef either as a plunger or a blocker. Instead, the Bombers employed 5-foot-9, 215-pound fullback Wade Miller, whom we are told is the better blocker. Huh?

RECEIVERS: C-

Bombers rid themselves of the dropsies by banishing Kamau Peterson to Hamilton and sending Wane McGarity home. Although the receiving corps is much-improved with the additions of Chris Brazzell, Darnell McDonald and even Scott Robinson, Winnipeg was third-last in net yards passing and the Bombers have played one more game than anyone else. And there is still the odd drop.

Getting kick returner Keith Stokes involved was a good idea. Stokes led the club in catches, 58 -- which was shocking because that was five more than Milt Stegall had.

The passing game was marred by the revolving door on almost every play, which usually included taking Roberts, the club's most dangerous weapon off the field, and too often forgetting that Stegall was still part of the attack, or should have been.

Jamie Stoddard, another forgotten man, was reliable. So was Gilles Colon when healthy.

OFFENSIVE LINE: B

Once the Bombers got all their Hogs in a row, this became the strength of their offence. The additions of Dan Goodspeed, Aaron Fiacconi and John Feugill helped shape this into one of the best O-lines in the country. With veteran stalwarts Matt Sheridan and Mike Abou-Mechrek, the Hogs helped Roberts to his career-best rushing output, which should also give him the CFL rushing title. They also limited the number of sacks allowed to 31, fourth in the CFL heading into the final weekend.

Dan Gyetvai was also a reliable backup and Jermese Jones replaced the injured Feugill capably at the end of the season.

DEFENSIVE LINE: C

The front four gets a passing grade, but there won't be many of those handed out on the defensive side of the ball.

The D-line accounted for 31 of the team's 41 sacks, including 12 from surefire rookie of the year candidate Gavin Walls, and opposing running backs found more success outside than up the gut, especially when Doug Brown wasn't hurt.

There certainly could have been more pressure put on opposing quarterbacks, but Joe Fleming, Brown, Walls and Tom Canada, if he re-signs, provide a solid base for what better be a new-look defence in 2006.

LINEBACKERS: F

It's their job to stop the run.

They didn't do it.

The Bombers allowed a league-high average of 125.8 rushing yards per game this season, which is a far cry from the 72.8-yard mark they led the league with just two short seasons ago.

There were many missed tackles and blown assignments, and the linebackers spent more time chasing running backs than stopping them in their tracks.

A few more blitzes here and there probably wouldn't have hurt this group's success, but the damage is done and the changes have begun.

Veteran Ryland Wickman is all but done in Blue and Gold, and Lamar McGriggs is a free agent.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: F

No other grade can be assigned to the secondary that surrendered the most passing yards in CFL history.

It's not entirely their fault, considering the linebackers missed some tackles and the D-line could have pressured the quarterback more, but their play this season was, in a word, dreadful.

Cornerback Omar Evans was the best of the bunch, but safety Wes Lysack's play deteriorated to the point where he was eventually traded.

The team is high on halfback Anthony Malbrough, who was acquired for Lysack, but there was way too much inconsistency everywhere else.

This may sound like a broken record, but improving the secondary, along with the linebacking corps, must be the highest priority in the off-season.

The fans have had enough.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C

Jon Ryan's prodigious punting and Ron Ockimey's coverage skills were the bright spots, but five blocked punts, only one return touchdown for Keith Stokes and Troy Westwood's field-goal woes bring the mark down.

Ryan set a CFL record for average yards per punt (50.6), which gave the Bombers prime field position, and Saskatchewan's Corey Holmes was the only returner to solve Winnipeg's cover teams (he did it twice).

However, it seemed like Stokes spent more time going backward than forward, and Westwood had to finish strong just to attain a field goal success rate of 70%.

COACHING, PERSONNEL AND MANAGEMENT: D

Jim Daley has taken too long and made too many changes during his "rebuilding" project and he still wasn't finished 18 games after he started it. Daley has moulded the offensive line into a topnotch unit and improved the receiving corps. But the defence failed miserably under his watch and everyone knows that it is defence that wins championships.

GM Brendan Taman found defensive end Gavin Walls, who may be the CFL rookie of the year, last winter but not much else. He did acquire Brazzell, Fiacconi, Evans and Ryan Folk in trades. He also brought in Goodspeed, Feugill and Robinson. But some free-agent signings were busts and 5-13 is still the bottom line.

Upper management also deserves some blame for not freeing up more money for free agency, especially after dumping about a half-million in salaries (Khari Jones, Eric Carter and Moe Elewonibi) last winter.

HOW THEY STACK UP

A: Top of the league

B: Better than most

C: Average

D: Hit the books

F: Worst in the CFL


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