New, improved

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

It was not long ago that yours truly -- along with many other pundits across this great land -- picked the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to finish last with room to spare in the CFL East.

Suffice to say our minds have been significantly changed.

Thanks to the off-season work of general manager Brendan Taman and the systems implemented by new coach Doug Berry and his trusty assistants, the Bombers are off to a start few people could have predicted.

At 3-1, this Bomber team has indicated to everyone that it has what it takes to be at very least a playoff team and quite possibly a contender for the Grey Cup.

We can honestly say, we didn't see it coming.

Coming off a 5-13 season, the Bombers certainly looked to be improved heading into the season. Problem was, so did everybody else and there were whispers that this team might go 0-6 to start the season with an extremely difficult schedule.

But this is why the Bombers put their faith in guys like Taman. He knows his stuff and just as he deserved considerable criticism last season for not getting the right players on the field, he deserves credit today for giving Berry a solid nucleus to work with.

Taman, though just 39, has been around long enough to know that he's only as good as his next victory. It's a what-have-you-done-for-us-lately world he exists in and Taman is in the epicentre.

Still, he's been on the hot seat for a while now as he tries to get the Bombers back to glory and so far it looks like he's finding it pretty comfortable.

The signing of Barrin Simpson in the off-season was considered by many to be the Bombers one and only major move. The naysayers, myself included, suggested that one middle linebacker was not enough to lift the worst defence in CFL history out of its cavernous hole.

However, judging by Simpson's stellar play and leadership in the early going, there's no doubt Taman knew what he was getting when he signed the Minister of Defence just hours after free agency kicked in.

Surrounded by high-end players like Doug Brown, Tom Canada, Ron Warner, Gavin Walls, Kelly Malveaux and Anthony Malbrough, the Bomber defence has gone from worst to first in many categories.

It's fair to say the optimism surrounding the Bombers has risen to a level it hasn't reached since 2001, when Khari Jones was in his prime and the Bombers made it to the Grey Cup.

When was the last time the Bombers beat anybody by 36 points, as they did in their last home game against the defending Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos?

Near as we can tell, it was their most impressive victory since 2002, when they put together a 55-7 win over the expansion Ottawa Renegades.

For the mighty Eskimos, it was their worst loss in seven years.

It's been a long time since the Blue and Gold so completely dominated a team in every facet of the game. Employing a bend-but-don't-break defence, the Bombers allowed the Eskimos to move the ball, but gave up only 10 points. On offence, they broke out, as we suggested they eventually would. When Kevin Glenn, Charles Roberts, Milt Stegall, Chris Brazzell and the entire offensive line have good games, the Bombers are not going to lose.

Not with this year's defence.

Next up for the Bombers is another date with the Montreal Alouettes, who come to town as the early Grey Cup favourites, sporting a 3-0 record. Led by widely-loathed coach Don Matthews and widely-respected quarterback Anthony Calvillo, the Als will provide a true litmus test for an emerging Bomber team.

Including two exhibition games, this is already the fourth meeting of the season between the two teams and you can bet there will be plenty of animosity on the gridiron.

There will also be increasing expectations for the Bombers.

This is a team that let a lot of people down a year ago and as a result few fans got their hopes up at the start of the 2006 campaign. That's one of the beautiful things about a couple of subpar seasons.

Everything seems so much better when a team returns to form.

Of course, we know as well as anyone else that a good start gets you nowhere unless you have an equally good finish.

It will take a lot more than a few good games in June and July to get the Bombers into contention.

But it's fair to say that it's a lot more enjoyable to be a Bomber fan today than it was a year ago at this time.


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