Change of seasons

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:57 AM ET

There are still 104 days until training camp begins, but where's the fun in waiting that long to offer up some analysis?

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have undergone major changes this off-season, with a good chunk of them happening since the start of free agency seven days ago. Nine of the 24 players who started the bulk of last year's games at their respective positions are gone, and the supporting cast has been altered significantly.

Head coach Mike Kelly could, of course, cut the entire team tomorrow and sign every member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the players here now will likely end up being the core of the 2009 squad.

The only area that hasn't undergone a major facelift is at running back, where Fred Reid and Joe Smith are both expected to return and even be on the field at the same time.

Every other position, however, has been a relative gong show. We know your head is spinning, so here's a recap, along with our thoughts:

QUARTERBACKS

Kelly is excited about recently acquired Stefan LeFors, who was with him in Edmonton last season, but the lefty's record as a CFL starter is 0-5.

Last year's No. 1, Kevin Glenn, remains in limbo, perched on the trading block with no takers. That is likely to change when the Bombers either pay him his $50,000 bonus on March 1 and try to trade him or release him before that.

Regardless, it appears the Bombers will be going to go into the season without an experienced pivot.

OUTLOOK: Unless something changes, there will be growing pains.

OFFENSIVE LINE

This is the area that has undergone the most change, with three starters from last season vamoosing via free agency.

The Bombers can claim that losing Alex Gauthier (Hamilton), Dominic Picard (Toronto) and Kyle Koch (Edmonton) isn't a big deal, and they may be right, but on paper it looks like they've taken a step backwards.

Glenn January, it should be noted, started 30 games over the past two seasons, but Luke Fritz and Steve Morley saw hardly any action last year. The key is getting those two -- Morley especially -- back to their previous forms.

And while it may be tempting, the Bombers can't afford to trade tackle Dan Goodspeed. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats want him badly, but he and left guard Brendon LaBatte, the only returning starters, will be needed to anchor the O-line.

OUTLOOK: Even if the newcomers can get the job done, the whole line is going to need time to come together.

RECEIVERS

Gone is one of the greatest receivers of all time, but that sounds a lot worse than it actually is.

Milt Stegall, who retired last week after 14 seasons, had a part-time role in 2008 thanks to pre-season knee surgery, so the team got a glimpse of the future A.M. -- After Milt -- and it looks pretty good.

They had three 1,000-yard receivers last year in Romby Bryant, Terrence Edwards and Derick Armstrong, and they improved their Canadian content by adding Brock Ralph for backup safety Jason Nugent.

Ralph and LeFors have great chemistry, so look for Ralph to rebound after a dismal, injury-plagued 2008 campaign.

Toss Canadian Arjei Franklin into the mix, or maybe even another import if the ratio allows it, and they might not need an experienced quarterback.

OUTLOOK: It looks better now than it did when last season ended. That's saying something.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Tom Canada, Kai Ellis and Jerome Haywood have been released, traded and not re-signed, respectively.

The newcomers are experienced tackle Tyrone Williams, formerly of the B.C. Lions, and end Riall Johnson, a former Argonaut who will be given the freedom to destroy quarterbacks however he sees fit. That's what Johnson says he was allowed to do in 2007, when he had 10 sacks in 14 games.

OUTLOOK: Combine Johnson and Williams with Doug Brown and Gavin Walls, and the Bomber D-line should be just as good as it was in '08.

LINEBACKERS

The Bombers decided they could survive without the CFL's top tackler from the past two seasons, Zeke Moreno, which was a bold move.

Then again, there wasn't significant backlash from fans when he was dealt to the Argos last week for Riall Johnson.

Barrin Simpson and Joe Lobendahn will battle it out for the starting middle spot, and both will likely be used in 3-4 defensive sets.

We haven't heard anyone say anything bad about outside linebacker Siddeeq Shabazz, who came over from Edmonton in the Kai Ellis deal, and most agree that Ike Charlton is a superb linebacker when healthy.

OUTLOOK: Pretty darn good, even with the loss of Moreno.

SECONDARY

Anthony Malbrough and Stanford Samuels were released, although both could be brought back at the right price or, in Samuels' case, if he's healthy enough.

The 2007 Grey Cup MVP, James Johnson, was brought in from Saskatchewan, while the Bombers have signed former Eskimo Keyou Craver but haven't announced it yet.

The brass is rumoured to be a big fan of Canadian safety Ian Logan, but the ratio might allow them to move Shabazz there if they so choose.

OUTLOOK: Returnees Kelly Malveaux, Jovon Johnson and Willie Amos are solid anchors, but we're not sold on this group just yet.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Bombers are desperately trying to sign Canadian punter Burke Dales, and they probably eventually will once he gives up on his NFL aspirations.

Kelly said placekicker Alexis Serna will be invited to training camp, but he will have competition.

If they don't get Dales, they might as well find an American who can do both the punting and placekicking.

The teams took a hit when Graeme Bell signed in Edmonton and they released Greg Bearman, but the signing of Shawn Gallant will help fill those gaps.

OUTLOOK: Still no better than it was the last two years.

OVERALL

There are some out there who feel 2009 in Winnipeg will be a Jim Daley Special.

That's a little extreme, although not having an experienced quarterback can be used as an argument by those who consider the Blue and Gold to be in rebuilding mode.

Their overall Canadian talent has improved, and they have added several solid players -- but no game changers. It is therefore too difficult, at this point in time, to say the Bombers are better now than they were in 2008.

In 104 days, we'll start finding out if that's the case.


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