True Blue believer

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:52 AM ET

You can count Barrin Simpson as a believer.

The Minister of Defence has bought into the teachings of his new head coach and is already preaching the gospel according to Mike Kelly.

The first public sermon will be held tonight at Canad Inns Stadium when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats visit the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the first pre-season game for both teams.

Many are interested to see what the new Blue and Gold will look like after Kelly's off-season "tweaking" that resulted in his changing half the starting lineup.

"I know there's a lot of people that are anxious, excited, apprehensive -- I don't know what word to use -- but there's an awful lot of curiosity, is probably the best word, about what kind of football team we're going to have this year," Kelly said.

Whatever Kelly has done, Simpson likes it so far.

"It's, like, a funny feeling," the middle linebacker said yesterday, looking like he was ready to bust some heads right then and there. "We're gelling. Last year we had guys who were already here, we had gone to the Grey Cup.

"But this team is a little bit closer than we were last year, and that's exciting to be around."

It may be exciting right now, but that could change in a hurry. It's only a pre-season contest, but everyone is going to be watching quarterback Stefan LeFors with a magnifying glass tonight and no doubt proclaiming him the next Kenny Ploen -- or T.J. Rubley -- after only a few passes.

"Obviously you want to go out there and still do well any time the lights come on," LeFors said. "You're out in front of an audience, and it's like our test."

There are currently 77 players in Bomber camp, and Kelly will trim that number to 60 on Friday. He has a good idea of what his starting lineup will look like when the season opens in Edmonton on July 2; all he needs now is proof.

"I feel like we're a pretty balanced football club right now at every position. I just want to see that it plays out that way," Kelly said. "I want to make sure that I'm seeing what I think I'm seeing and then confirm that."

All four quarterbacks -- LeFors, Bryan Randall, James Kilian and Richie Williams (in that order) -- will get a quarter of action to strut their stuff, while almost every other player healthy enough to play will suit up.

Only receiver Derick Armstrong and defensive tackle Tyrone Williams are guaranteed to be on the sidelines, according to Kelly.

The most competitive position battle appears to be in the secondary, where only Ian Logan, Jovon Johnson and Lenny Walls (who has yet to make it to camp after holding out) are believed to have firm grips on jobs. James Johnson, Ronyell Whitaker, Keyuo Craver and Brandon Stewart are but a few of those in the hunt for the other two spots.

"You want to make some plays," Johnson said of his plans for tonight. "We want to come out and prove, as a whole secondary, that Bomber fans don't have nothing to worry about."

Whitaker, a veteran of 31 NFL games, was a last-minute addition to camp. Now he is one solid performance away from sewing up a full-time football job north of the border.

"I want to be assignment perfect," Whitaker said. "You're not going to make every play, but you can be assignment perfect.

"... Nobody has a lock on a job, so that makes it better. That makes you want to work a little harder, because you know nobody's in a set position. It makes it worth coming to work."


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