Time for answers

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:49 AM ET

EDMONTON -- Mike Kelly sat down at the podium in the Jackie Parker Lounge for his first official pre-game press conference, opened the Diet Coke provided for him and cracked, "Where's the beer? Who's running this show, Maciocia?"

The new Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach hasn't been afraid to speak his mind or crack a joke since his hiring seven months ago today, but the time for chatter is over.

The players get to do the talking on the field tonight when the Bombers battle the Edmonton Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium (8 p.m., TSN) in a season-opener that is certainly not shy on subplots.

'Long off-season'

Remarkably, Kelly, who has done nothing to avoid the spotlight since being named Winnipeg's 27th head coach, almost sounded yesteday like he was ready to quietly don the headset, walk to the sidelines and do some coaching.

"Right now I just wanna go play," said Kelly, who dreamed of leading the Blue and Gold since serving as their offensive co-ordinator from 1992-96. "It's been a long off-season, doing a lot of work and a lot of evaluating."

And a lot of talking.

Kelly bashed the former Bomber management team, he bashed Saskatchewan, and he even bashed CFL teams that use the shotgun formation.

No one has said so much before winning a single game.

The 51-year-old, who was Edmonton's receivers coach last season after spending the previous three years as a sports management professor at Drexel University, isn't short on confidence when it comes to his football knowledge.

So he overhauled the roster, most notably making former Eskimos third-stringer Stefan LeFors his new starting quarterback.

"I feel good about our plan of action that we implemented this year," Kelly said. "There needed to be change in Winnipeg; 8-10 is not an acceptable season in Winnipeg, and I understand that. There was a culture change that needed to come about, and we set a plan in action, and now it's coming to fruition.

"Now we need to see ... if our evaluations are correct that we've put together a better football club than they had last year."

Whether this year's version of the Bombers can finish with a better record will rest largely on the shoulders of LeFors, the 28-year-old left-hander who spent the past two seasons learning the Canadian game from all-star Edmonton pivot Ricky Ray.

"Just sitting back and watching him play, how he practises, how he studies the game, how he manages the game -- all that was big for me to sit back and watch and learn," LeFors said of Ray.

The two pivots have chatted several times since LeFors was traded to Winnipeg in January, but that contact has naturally ceased leading up to tonight's tilt. Ray is a fan of Winnipeg's new starter.

"Stefan's a good quarterback," Ray said under the warm Alberta sun. "He's going to be able to make some plays and run around and do those sorts of things."

LeFors is just one of 12 new starters on Winnipeg's roster. Milt Stegall has retired, there are four newcomers on the offensive line alone, and there have been six changes to the defence.

The Bombers are 81/2-point underdogs tonight, but right guard Kelly Bates said it's crucial to avoid a couple of losses out of the gate.

"It's something that once you get behind that eight ball, it's hard to get out from behind that," Bates said. "We need to come out and show what type of football we're going to play.We need to establish an identity as a team as quickly as we can."

And if that identity isn't what Kelly thought it would be, "Where's the beer?" will take on a whole different meaning.


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