Exhibition blues

TED WYMAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

It is a conundrum no coach should ever have to deal with, especially in the CFL, where finding capable quarterbacks is like panning for gold in Lake Winnipeg.

The far-too-short CFL exhibition season gets underway for the Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats tomorrow night at Canad Inns Stadium and all eyes will be on the men behind centre.

Incumbent starter Kevin Glenn and a handful of hopefuls competing for the backup jobs will test their arms, their ability to find receivers and their agility in a collapsing pocket, each player taking precious few reps in preparation for a regular season that is only a couple weeks away.

There's where the puzzle becomes more perplexing for Bombers head coach Doug Berry, who must use the pre-season contests to identify and develop a decent backup, while also getting his starter ready for the season.

In short, it's not possible in a two-game exhibition season, which is why the Bombers spent all of last season trying out different backups to varying degrees of futility.

"You can't give a (new) guy a half or three quarters," Berry said during training camp earlier this month. "You've only got two pre-season games and you want your starting quarterback to get so much before he plays his first regular-season game. There's limited opportunities for these guys. In the NFL, they have four pre-season games. Here, if you don't make it happen in the quarter, quarter-and-a-half you get, it's tough."

Glenn, a capable starter when he is healthy, has sustained injuries the last two seasons and on each occasion the Bombers suffered miserably. Tee Martin, Russ Michna, Mike Quinn, Brad Banks and Ryan Dinwiddie all had their chances and all dropped the ball.

Glenn points to the abbreviated pre-season schedule.

"Once that first regular-season game starts, it can feel like a pre-season game," Glenn said. "It's tough when you have to come in and get evaluated on two games, as far as rookies go and as far as vets, who might not get to play in both games."

Star receiver Milt Stegall, who has caught touchdown passes from 14 different quarterbacks over the course of his career, doesn't expect the CFL to add exhibition games any time soon -- "It's an economical thing," he says -- but he does believe the league would be better off if it did, especially at the pivotal position.

"For the quarterbacks, they only get a half or a quarter to showcase themselves and that's not enough," Stegall said, adding that as an "older guy" he's perfectly happy with only two exhibition games.

"I wish there were more pre-season games to get the other guys more of a chance to showcase themselves 'cause there are a lot of guys who slip through the cracks."

Glenn's suggestion is that the league seriously look at playing three exhibition games and cut the regular season to 17 games. It's an intriguing idea which could make the CFL stronger in the long run.

"It could work out that way," Glenn said. "A lot of guys want it to be changed. If they switched it up to where we had another pre-season game it would benefit the clubs and the guys who would get another chance to make the team."

"I'd be comfortable with three (exhibition) games," Berry concurred.

Like Stegall, we are skeptical ("The chances of it happening are very slim," he says.).

It's unlikely the CFL would make such a move, especially if it's a matter of cold, hard cash.

As a result, the first few regular-season games will continue to be the true testing ground for developing players and the search for competent backup quarterbacks will continue to be on an emergency basis.

"If you look at the guys that end up showing up as legitimate backup guys, why did they? Because No. 1 got hurt, they got in, got an opportunity to shine and flipped the switch, the light went on, and they ended up being pretty good. That's how guys basically get noticed in the CFL, because No. 1 gets hurt. We don't wish that on anybody, our guys or anybody else's guys. Look around, that's how guys get their first starts."

So, once again this year the Bombers head into the season with a proven pivot in Glenn and a bunch of question marks. Once again, one or two or even three backups will get a chance to shine when Glenn inevitably gets banged up.

At some point you might find a keeper, but -- as was the case with Buck Pierce in B.C. -- it will probably be a complete fluke.

And you might find a gold nugget in the lake, too.


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