Challengers punted away

His competitors have been given the boot, but Troy Westwood is still practising and playing as...

His competitors have been given the boot, but Troy Westwood is still practising and playing as though there were five or six guys pushing him. (Winnipeg Sun/Marcel Cretain)

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

He's run two punters out of town, while the third never even showed up.

And six weeks into the CFL season, Troy Westwood is finally the sole employee in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers punting department -- just as he always wanted and felt he deserved.

"You're punting in Winnipeg," Westwood noted yesterday. "So when the wind's blowing 30 kilometres an hour and in any certain direction, it's an art form to be able to kick consistently in that.

"I'm better than anyone right now punting in the country. We have an advantage when kicking in Winnipeg when it's windy. But it's something I'm still trying to improve on, and I feel confident back there.

"I feel like punting will be an asset for our team."

COMPETITION

Bombers head coach Doug Berry wanted Westwood, the team's placekicker for the past 15 years, to have competition for the punting job that was vacated when Jon Ryan signed in the off-season with the NFL's Green Bay Packers.

The Bombers first signed former B.C. Lions kicker Duncan O'Mahony, but he never showed up for training camp.

So they brought in import Brian Claybourn, who lasted through the pre-season and the first two regular-season games before getting the boot.

After that it was Sam Paulescu's turn, but the 22-year-old import never found his groove and was released on Sunday.

That leaves Westwood as the team's full-time placekicker and punter for just the second time in his career.

Well, for now, anyway.

"I'll never say anything is for good, but he is this week," Berry said.

Westwood struggled with consistency during camp and the early part of the season, but a chat with former Bomber punter Bob Cameron helped turn things around.

"He gave me three or four points," Westwood said. "We had a good conversation.

"And then, really, it was just coming out a half hour before practice right after training camp and just kicking my way out of a bad drop, more or less."

Westwood, 39, likes to use the golf swing as an analogy for the punting motion. He got into a bad "swing" habit, and it took some time to work out the kinks.

He put his rehabilitated leg on fine display last Thursday night in Edmonton, hammering seven punts an average of 49 yards in Winnipeg's 25-22 win.

Westwood got a lot of attention for ignoring his competition during camp and the first few weeks of the season, but he said that's not the reason why he won the punting job.

"I'm operating now the same way I operated when there were two, three, five guys out there fighting for the job," he said. "I couldn't care less about them being around.

"I consume my thoughts with execution of either placekicking or punting. It doesn't matter to me if there's a bunch of other guys around. I'm not trying to be a jerk to them.

"I'm just focusing on what I need to do."

Stuck in the middle of the perceived punting war was long snapper Chris Cvetkovic, who is obviously an ally of Westwood's but didn't do anything to hurt Claybourn's or Paulescu's chances for success.

"No, I gotta worry about my own job," Cvetkovic said. "I can't be messing around like that.

"... Troy's a grown man, and I've seen the way he works. I knew it would be a matter of time before he was behind me grabbing the snaps."

And while it seemed Berry wasn't a big fan of Westwood with all the competition he was bringing in for him, the coach certainly respects what the Manitoba product has done.

"He did (persevere)," Berry said. "He kept at it, and he was committed to being the punter.

"He did not back down, and I like guys that are going to do whatever it takes to win. And he did what he felt he had to do to win his job."


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