Bombers get passing grade

JIM BENDER and KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

There will be no "winter school" for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this year.

After two years of failing to make the grade, the 2006 version of the Blue and Gold is being rewarded with passing marks after their 9-9 campaign.

This was no honour-roll performance, however. The quarterback depth was a big problem, the defence allowed scores at the wrong times, and the special teams were so-so.

Here is Winnipeg's final report card for the 2006 CFL season:

QUARTERBACKS: D

Kevin Glenn gets a B for leading the Bombers to a 9-5 record in games he both started and finished, but he's not very durable.

He finished the regular season with 249 completions on 430 tries (57.9%) for 3,427 yards and 17 touchdowns, with 13 interceptions. His QB efficiency rating was a middle-of-the-road 84.1.

But this grade falls dramatically because not one of the many backups managed to pull out a victory during Glenn's injury-induced absences. In fact, both Mike Quinn and Russ Michna lost their jobs, Brad Banks was inconsistent, and Ryan Dinwiddie failed to sparkle in his only appearance.

RUNNING BACKS: A+

Tailback Charles Roberts won the rushing title for the second straight season, despite playing behind a revolving offensive line where only one player, centre Obby Khan, started all 18 games.

Roberts ran for 1,609 yards on 303 carries for a 5.3-yard average and 10 touchdowns. He also caught 42 passes for 411 yards to lead the CFL in combined yards (2,020).

Both Graeme Bell and Scott Regimbald have filled the bill at fullback, although Regimbald dropped a few passes, and both often lined up as tight ends to help out the O-line.

RECEIVERS: C+

Veteran slotback Milt Stegall leads the way with another A. No one will ever forget that 100-yard TD he scored on the last play of the game to beat Edmonton. Despite missing four games due to injury, Stegall finished fourth in the CFL with 79 receptions for 1,269 yards and seven touchdowns.

Although he came in late, Derick Armstrong also gets an A. But this score is brought down by those who failed to step up when Stegall was out with injury, particularly Chris Brazzell and Andrae Thurman. In fact, not another receiver finished in the CFL's top 20. And there is a reason that Kwame Cavil and Quentin McCord couldn't get into the lineup at the end.

Kick returner Albert Johnson III also became an afterthought as a receiver.

Although we referred to Jamie Stoddard as the club's most sure-handed pass catcher at the midway point, he also dropped a few. Both Arjei Franklin and Adam Eckert have tremendous upside but weren't used enough.

OFFENSIVE LINE: B+

The injury-riddled hogs finished the season with the top rusher in the land, while surrendering only 35 quarterback sacks. And this, despite the fact Khan was the only starter to play the entire season.

Dan Goodspeed, Mike Abou-Mechrek, Matt Sheridan, Garrick Jones, Eric Wilson and Val St. Germain all missed games, with backups Jermese Jones, Aaron Fiacconi and Marc Parenteau stepping into the breach.

However, Glenn and Quinn both took their share of hits, and Glenn was often under intense pressure in some outings.

DEFENSIVE LINE: B

The ferocious front four, consisting of Doug Brown, Ron Warner, Tom Canada and Gavin Walls, held the opposition to the fewest yards per rush, the third-fewest rushing yards and had the third-most sacks.

But there were too many 100-yard rushing games allowed in the second half of the season, most notably the 238 that Calgary amassed on Sept. 15, and the team had 11 fewer sacks over the final nine games than it did in the first nine.

Jon Oosterhuis filled in well, but Cam Legault was a healthy scratch at the end of the season.

LINEBACKERS: B+

Middle linebacker Barrin Simpson gets an A+ for his league-leading 110 tackles. He could very well be the CFL's defensive player of the year for adding three sacks, four tackles for losses and two pass knockdowns to his resume.

Strong-side linebacker Ike Charlton had a solid season in a new position, recording 60 tackles, but the weak-side spot was an area of concern.

Donnavan Carter and Kyries Hebert both struggled on the short side of the field. Third-year Canadian Neil McKinlay was the best performer at the position, but he is still learning.

SECONDARY: B

This group must have studied the hardest during the off-season, because it went from an F to a B.

After allowing the most passing yards in CFL history last year, the secondary rebounded in 2006 by finishing second in that category.

Kyries Hebert, Kelly Malveaux and Robert Bean were excellent additions to holdovers Omar Evans, Stanford Samuels and Anthony Malbrough.

They did, however, give up some large passing plays for touchdowns, and they had the second-fewest interceptions, with only 13.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C+

Albert Johnson III is the CFL's special teams all-star, but he still finished fourth in punt-return average and fifth in kickoff-return average, and he failed to return one of either to the house.

Troy Westwood had a better year booting field goals than in 2005, but he still made only about 73% of his attempts. His 42.9-yard punting average, meanwhile, was fifth in the league.

The return teams cut down on their penalties in the second half of the season, and Shawn Gallant and Kyries Hebert were cover demons, finishing tied for first and tied for third, respectively, in special teams tackles.

COACHING, PERSONNEL

AND MANAGEMENT: B

GM Brendan Taman's hiring of Doug Berry was a great move for an organization looking for a fresh, new leader.

Berry, a head coach for the first time in his life, was respected by his players, and they appeared to be big believers in his coaching philosophies and schemes.

Berry, 58, also handled any potential off-field distractions with moxie and grace. If it wasn't affecting his football team, he nipped it in the bud to ward off the frothing media.

Whether it was Duncan O'Mahony going missing during training camp or Charles Roberts' retirement prank, Berry dealt with it well.

No rookie head coach is a complete genius, however. There were questionable decisions here and there, but nothing major.

The offence had more flavour this season, but it could still use a little more salt in 2007. Greg Marshall's defence was outstanding but can still improve. Whether Marshall will still be in Winnipeg next year, though, remains to be seen.

Taman gets a passing grade for acquiring Kelly Malveaux for a sixth-round pick, for signing Derick Armstrong in September and for making his club cap friendly heading into the first year of the CFL's new salary management system.

We won't mention Onterrio Smith.

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THE MARKS

A: Top of the league

B: Better than most

C: Average

D: Hit the books

F: Worst in the CFL


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