Making the grade

JIM BENDER and KIRK PENTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:19 AM ET

They have hit the halfway pole in the current stakes race and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are among the leading horses.

But whether they can hold on to win at the wire or tire and allow the rest of the field to overtake them remains to be seen.

The Bombers boast a 5-3-1 record and could easily have been 6-2-1 if they had not blown the lead in last Sunday's Labour Day Classic. But they are in first in the East and it is time to assess the first half of the race as the Sun issues its semi-annual report card giving the club an overall grade of B.

QUARTERBACKS -- A

Starting signal-caller Kevin Glenn is not only the odds-on favourite to become the CFL's all-star QB but would even win the Most Outstanding Player Award if the ballots were cast today. Glenn has completed 213 of 307 passes (69.4%) for a league-leading 2,770 yards and 14 touchdowns (tied for third), with only three interceptions. And his numbers would be even better if his receivers had not dropped a number of catchable passes. His 108.6 efficiency rating is also the best in the league for QBs with more than 100 pass attempts. Although Glenn has led the Bombers on game-winning drives in the waning moments several times this season, his one flaw is not finishing drives with more majors.

Backup Ryan Dinwiddie was actually decent in the brief appearance he has had on the field while third-stringer Kliff Kingsbury has not been tested.

RUNNING BACKS -- A

Although Charles Roberts has led the CFL in rushing for most of the first half, he is currently in second -- but just 12 yards behind B.C.'s Joe Smith.

However, the little man they call Blink has certainly carried the load once again, gaining 805 yards on 157 carries (5.1-yard average) and nine touchdowns. Now the club's all-time leading rusher, Roberts added another 33 catches (most among CFL running backs) for 259 yards and leads the league in yards from scrimmage.

Although fullback Gilles Lezi has proven to be a capable blocker, he has dropped several catchable passes out of the backfield.

RECEIVERS -- A

The Bombers boast three of the CFL's top 10 receivers. Slotback Milt Stegall, who just set the all-time TD record, is first with 686 yards and four touchdowns on 41 receptions. Wide receiver Derick Armstrong is fourth with 49 catches for 630 yards and four TDs while slotback Terrence Edwards is fifth with 38 grabs for 607 yards and four majors. Not only that but non-import receiver Arjei Franklin has been impressive since returning from injury, O'Neil Wilson has had his moments and veteran Jamie Stoddard can still be a clutch grabber. When import Chris Brazzell was in the lineup, he made some big plays. But just about every one of these receivers has been guilty of dropping passes he should have caught. On the other hand, most of them have made amazing snags of balls they had no business catching.

OFFENSIVE LINE -- A

Of course, you cannot have the league's top passer and top ground-gainer without the yeoman effort from the big bodies up front. Glenn owes these guys major kudos for keeping him upright as they lead the league with the least number of sacks allowed (12). And if the voting was done right now, at least two and possibly even three, of these guys would at least be voted division all-stars.

DEFENSIVE LINE -- C+

Defensive end Tom Canada is now tied for fifth in quarterback sacks with seven, but just one behind the leaders. Defensive end Gavin Walls has stalled at five sacks. Defensive tackle Doug Brown, a shoo-in for all-star status once again, has four. Yet, the Bombers could have had many more if they could just learn how to wrap up QBs before they can escape and nowhere was that shortcoming more glaring than last Sunday against Saskatchewan. The Bombers are also a lowly fifth against the rush (108.6 yards per game) and should NEVER allow a 27-yard TD run to win a match in the dying seconds. And yes, the linebacking corps deserves much of the blame for that, too.

LINEBACKERS -- C

Middle linebacker Barrin Simpson led the CFL in defensive tackles until the last two weeks. Simpson is now in second with 61 and remains the undisputed leader of the underachieving 'D.' But his play keeps this crew from getting a D. Although Cam Hall has 36 defensive tackles, he has not made anyone forget the man he replaced at SAM LB, Ike Charlton. Weak-side LB Corey Jenkins has had his ups and downs, and those downs were glaring in Regina.

LB Neil McKinlay, who is used quite a bit, has also been inconsistent. The Bomber scheme seems to rely heavily on the linebackers backing up the run and helping on pass coverage and the Bombers need to improve dramatically in both areas.

SECONDARY -- D

There are times when this injury-ravaged unit looks like it can't cover and can't tackle. At other times, it can blanket opposing pass catchers. The Bombers were dead last in pass defence for much of the first half but actually improved to sixth recently (279.6 yards per game). Yet, they remain last in both the number of completions allowed (21) and in interceptions (three). Sure, Robert Bean and Anthony Malbrough have spent most of the season on the injury list but frankly, more was expected more from veterans Kelly Malveaux and Davin Bush.

SPECIAL TEAMS -- D

Only the play of Kyries Hebert and some game-winning heroics from placekicker Rob Pikula keep this grade from being an F. Hebert led the CFL in special teams tackles for much of the year and is currently in second with 14. But let's just say the kick coverage needs work.

Pikula kicked two game-winning field goals. But Troy Westwood has connected only eight of 15 attempts while Pikula's punting has been a disappointment to date. And this corner would love to see Westwood get another crack at punting.

Winnipeg's kick returning also leaves much to be desired. Although Albert Johnson III is second in the CFL with 557 yards on 29 kickoff returns, his 19.2-yard average is ninth among returners with more than 10 runbacks.

Dominique Dorsey, who was cut in training camp, sports a 27-yard average with Toronto. Johnson, who does not get much blocking on punt returns, is sixth in the CFL with 219 yards on 31 runbacks. But his 7.1-yard average is 11th. Dorsey has a 10.2-yard average. Johnson, you may be surprised to learn, is actually fourth in the CFL in combined yardage.

COACHING, PERSONNEL AND MANAGEMENT -- B

Second-year head coach Doug Berry has moulded Glenn into one of the best QBs in the CFL, leading one of the best attacks. But the defence still needs to do some extra homework if this squad even hopes to win the championship. And Berry has admitted he wants more from his kickers, not to mention the special teams in general.

But this is a squad that has won several games either in the last minute or last quarter and it was usually both the offence and the defence that rose to the occasion in those matches.

GM Brendan Taman signed offensive lineman Andrew Greene, receiver Terrence Edwards, defensive back Davin Bush, defensive lineman Jerome Haywood and fullback Gilles Lezi as free agents. He also acquired OL Alexandre Gauthier and WR O'Neil Wilson in trades. However, DL Nate Davis, signed as a free agent, proved to be a bust. KR/RB Dominique Dorsey, acquired up from Saskatchewan, was cut. School's still out on free-agent LBs Corey Jenkins and Cam Hall and the backup QBs are still huge question marks. Plus, it seems this team is still seeking kickers.

Taman, with the help of upper management deserves credit for keeping the high-priced help happy with raises or bonuses during Grey Cup week last year.


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