Trouble in Bombers 'family'?

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

We'd love to be positive today. In fact, we were fully prepared to find some good things to say about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' season debut in Edmonton.

There were some good things.

Problem is, there's an issue that must be dealt with in the wake of Thursday's 19-17 loss.

It's about that nice, happy family head coach Mike Kelly was developing. Players talked about it throughout training camp, how tight-knit this group had become, given all the new faces.

Before the Bombers left for Edmonton, I asked receiver Arjei Franklin what he liked best about this team, and he pointed to the family atmosphere.

Well, it didn't take long for a serious spat to develop, one that could have far-reaching implications and might lead to another star player being shown the door.

As first reported yesterday at winnipegsun.com, veteran receiver Derick Armstrong told the Sun he refused to play after being told at the last minute he was going to be a backup.

It's mind-boggling that a player would get his nose so far out of joint that he refuses to play. Not sure I've ever seen it before. The term "prima donna" immediately comes to mind.

But the blame in this fiasco must be shared by Kelly, who didn't tell Armstrong of the game plan until shortly before kickoff.

Moving up

That's also when Franklin, a backup, was told he'd be moving up in the rotation.

"I found out about 30 minutes beforehand," Franklin said yesterday. "I'm not sure (why), either. They told me I was playing, so I just focused on getting my mind right before the game."

It's a strange way of doing business, and it cost the Bombers, big-time.

Kelly's top-secret offence, with all that motion and those sneaky handoffs to receivers, had a rough night in the rain. At least, the passing game did.

Quarterback Stefan LeFors certainly could have used another big target, someone who's caught 164 passes for 2,152 yards and 11 touchdowns over the last two seasons.

But the man they call Big Country threw the Big Snit, and now coach Kelly has a Big Problem.

Armstrong clearly put himself before the team, a cardinal sin if there ever was one in Kelly's bible. So much for No. 83's assertion that he was going to take over the leadership mantle from Milt Stegall.

But the guy is also a huge talent, a proven veteran and a popular teammate. Obviously hurt and confused by the last-minute news, Armstrong will have some support in that locker-room.

Players expect to be treated with respect.

The thing is, telling Armstrong just before kickoff that he was, in essence, being demoted was going to mess with his mind even if he had played.

Don't buy the notion this was as a ratio issue, either, brought on by D-lineman Doug Brown's inability to play because of illness. Brown, a Canadian, was replaced by Don Oramasionwu, also a Canadian. So that didn't directly affect the ratio.

Yes, it meant a change to who would be the designated imports coming off the bench. But it would have made a lot more sense to make first-year receiver Adarius Bowman the D.I., instead of Armstrong, a Bomber veteran.

It would have made even more sense to bring an extra player to Edmonton in case Brown, who was sick all week, couldn't suit up.

Poor planning led to a last-minute, poor decision.

Brown's loss hurt the team, yes.

But not as much as Armstrong's.

How Kelly can keep him, now, I'm not sure.

The Bombers are strong enough at receiver to unload him, although this incident could hurt his trade value. When other CFL teams hear Kelly is unhappy with Armstrong, they're not going to offer the moon.

So this team's talent level might take a hit.

Just as importantly, its family atmosphere already has.

Contact Paul at paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca or 632-2788.


Photos