LB spots up for grabs

KIRK PENTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have one, maybe two linebacking spots to fill over the next three weeks.

The coaches know it. The fans know it. Heck, even the Canadian customs agents at the Winnipeg airport know it, as Bomber hopeful Kai Parham found out earlier this week.

The 6-foot-3, 247-pound Californian had landed in Winnipeg but wasn't technically in Canada yet when he learned from a border guard that the Blue and Gold are looking for starting linebackers.

"I was going through customs," Parham said, "and he was like, 'What position do you play?' And I'm like, 'I play linebacker and some defensive end, too.' He said, 'Defensive end we're pretty steady at, but we really need linebackers.' "

Parham has made the most of that scoop through two days of Bombers rookie camp. When head coach Doug Berry was asked yesterday which newcomers have impressed him, Parham was the second player he mentioned.

"He's a big guy that can run and has shown good athletic ability and intelligence," Berry said.

Now all Parham has to do is keep it going -- and elevate his game even more -- over the next few weeks. There are a whopping nine linebackers in rookie camp, and five veterans will join the group when main camp begins Sunday.

Middle linebacker Barrin Simpson, the East Division's top defensive player last season, is a lock at his position, but the weak-side (WIL) and strong-side (SAM) spots are up for grabs.

Canadian Neil McKinlay finished last season at the run-stopping WIL spot, but import Kyries Hebert, Winnipeg's starting safety last year, will start camp at that position as well.

"Our thinking there is that it's easier for him, if we have to make a change, to go back to free safety than it would be going from free safety down to WIL," defensive co-ordinator Greg Marshall said.

The pass-defending SAM spot, which was vacated by the departure of Ike Charlton to the NFL, is the one that will keep Marshall up at night until the final decision is made.

"I feel really good about whatever direction we go at WIL linebacker," Marshall said. "We have a lot of ability there, and we'll have some good choices. And same with the free safety spot. So now, to me, the key is who steps up at SAM.

"That's going to be key for us. It's a key position in our defence, and it's going to be key for us to identify not only who's going to be the starter but who's going to be the backup."

BALL-HAWKING

Former pro baseball player Corey Jenkins and Toney Edison, who has five interceptions through two days of practice, have shown excellent ball-hawking abilities, which bodes well in their quests for the SAM spot.

"Jenkins can move," Marshall said. "The first couple days he's done a good job. He's a good athlete. And I guess he doesn't have to worry about hitting a curveball here, so he'll be OK."

The affable Jenkins, 30, is a strong believer in his abilities.

"I've come here to play," he said. "I came here to show them that this is what I'm supposed to do."


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