Under the microscope

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

More than 20 first-year players and five quarterbacks will kick off Winnipeg Blue Bomber rookie camp today, and guess which ones will get the most attention?

We'll give you a hint: it won't be the ones vying for a spot on the practice roster, or trying to catch a coach's eye for his ability to be a backup long snapper.

Yet that's really what rookie camp comes down to: three days of grunt work for the right to smash heads with the veterans next week and maybe, just maybe, a chance to earn your first football pay cheque.

Never mind the quarterbacks. For many, this is about landing a $500/week gig on the practice roster, or, at best, a $40,000-a-year job on special teams.

"It's a crash course in CFL football for a lot of these guys," Bomber head coach Mike Kelly was saying yesterday. "Some have never seen anything about the game."

That said, Kelly doesn't rule out the possibility of finding a starter among the bunch. At the very least, a special teams contributor.

"Give them a reason to want to see you again, or see more of you," is what director of player personnel John Murphy says rookie camp is all about. "Who are these guys? You may see them on tape, you may have drafted them, seen them at a camp. But really, what are we dealing with?"

This year, probably not another Brendon LaBatte, who stepped right in as a rookie starting offensive lineman last season.

Not that Mike Morris, Winnipeg's top draft pick this year, won't try.

But the Bombers don't feel the need to rush the UBC product into the lineup.

"If he needs another year, we're kind of protected," Murphy said.

What the coaching staff will be looking for is which players are best suited for which positions, come main training camp.

Hopefully, they also see signs of the next Pierre-Luc Labbe or Daryl Stephenson, rookies a year ago who eventually made contributions on special teams.

The way Murphy sees it, this rookie crop will also stock the practice roster, which will allow the Bombers to easily plug in a player when someone goes down.

Not particularly sexy, no, but necessary.

Which brings us to the quarterbacks, who'll see their first live action in what promises to be the main event of Kelly's first training camp as head coach.

"That starts (today)," Kelly said of the five-man competition. "I want to see the little things, how do they command the huddle, what type of leadership they have. I'm excited to see our returning two quarterbacks in person."

First-year Bomber Stefan LeFors may be the pre-camp favourite to be the starter in the season opener, July 2, against his old team in Edmonton, but returnees Ryan Dinwiddie and Bryan Randall will certainly have something to say about it.

Rookies Darrell Hackney and James Kilian are the wild cards.

"There's a pretty good opportunity here," Murphy said. "We had plenty of stats the last three or four years, plenty of all-stars, but we don't have a lot of points.

"Being consistent with your offence is something that will really pay dividends for this team. And that all starts on Day 1, just knowing you just have to do your job. Worry about your responsibility, play to the offence."

And remember all eyes are on you.

That starts today, too.

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ROOKIES VIE FOR ATTENTION AT BOMBERS CAMP

ROOKIE ROSTER

No. Player Pos.

1 Willie Byrd* DB

8 James Kilian* QB

9 Darrell Hackney* QB

16 Ivan Birungi WR

20 Peter Quinney RB

23 Derrick Strait* DB

25 Brady Browne DB

36 Patrick Body* DB

39 Nick Kordic DB

43 Brandon Stewart* DB

45 Jonathan Hefney* DB

49 Bradley Pierson* K

52 Bryan Wilson* LB

56 Chase Ortiz* DL

64 Mike Morris OL

68 Kyle Sleightholm OL

84 Kyle Smith* WR

88 Justin Surrency* WR

89 Tyrone Timmons* WR

90 Dorian Smith* DL

93 Don Oramasionwu DL

99 Aaron McConnell* DL

*import


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