Plug & Play

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:20 AM ET

This year's version of Winnipeg Blue Bombers doesn't look nearly as lost on the field as it sometimes did in 2005.

Practices, however, are a different story.

The Bombers, thanks mainly to injuries, partially because of the ratio and rarely due to poor play, have shuffled the deck more this season than the blackjack dealers at MGM Grand.

If nothing else, the 2006 Bomber squad will be remembered as a versatile one. At last count, 14 members of the team had lined up at different positions than they had originally signed up to play. That's more than half of a starting lineup.

The jumbling has happened most frequently on the defensive side of the ball, where linebackers end up as defensive backs and defensive backs end up as linebackers.

"We have a lunch line looking at coach at the beginning of practice, like, 'OK, what am I doing?' " Stanford Samuels said. "But it's fun, man. It brings another element to the game.

"It keeps you on your toes, because you always have to focus in."

Samuels is a cornerback, but he played one game at strong-side linebacker in July when no one else was healthy -- or qualified -- enough to step in. His old football buddies from Florida State University sure got a kick out of hearing that their 5-foot-10, 190-pound friend was actually in the box.

"You get a lot of laughs, but they always call me 'Little Linebacker,' so they just told me I found my way back home, that's all," Samuels said. "Because I've always been one to stick my head in there."

It's one thing to be versatile, but it's another to be both versatile and good at the same time. The Bombers can get away with saying they are versatile and good this season, because they have a better-than-average defence (where most of the changes have taken place) and they've always been at or near the top of the East Division standing.

The game that Samuels played linebacker, the Bombers won 29-0 over Hamilton. The game that defensive back Kelly Malveaux played linebacker -- on 46 hours notice and with no practice time, we might add -- the Bombers won 17-14 in Montreal.

"That was a little radical," defensive co-ordinator Greg Marshall admitted.

Versatility is key in the CFL because of the small rosters, which prevent teams from dressing a backup for each position. The Bombers, however, feel they have that problem covered should they run into it in the playoffs.

That's because Marshall figures this is the most versatile team he's ever coached.

"It's good, because we know we have guys that, if we do run into a situation, we can ask to play there and they've had some experience," Marshall said. "Our guys respond very well to it, because it's happened so often that it's not like a panic situation. It's not, 'Oh my God, what are you doing here?' It's like, 'OK, now I'm working with you instead of the other guys. Not a big deal.' That part of it is very beneficial.

"Although it would be nice if we can play the next month with the same guys in the same spots, I'm not holding my breath on that."

Yes, at the rate the Bombers are going this year, left guard Matt Sheridan will soon be at slotback, defensive tackle Doug Brown will be taking the snaps, and Samuels will be on the defensive line.

"I won't put my hand down at all," Samuels said. "I'm too small for that, unless it's straight pass rush.

"Now, if it's straight pass rush I could play on the end ... but not inside."

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ALTER EGOS

The Bombers who have shown their versatility this season:

Natural position / Other positions played

Mike Abou-Mechrek right guard / right tackle

Robert Bean cornerback / defensive halfback

Donnavan Carter safety / weak-side linebacker

Aaron Fiacconi centre / right, left guard

Gabriel Fulbright cornerback / defensive halfback

Shawn Gallant safety / weak-side linebacker

Kyries Hebert safety / weak-side linebacker

Jermese Jones left tackle / right tackle

Kelly Malveaux defensive halfback / strong-side linebacker

Ron Ockimey weak-side linebacker / safety

Marc Parenteau right tackle / right guard

Stanford Samuels cornerback / strong-side linebacker

Matt Sheridan left guard / right, left tackle

Eric Wilson right guard / right tackle


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