Bombers' youth movement

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:42 AM ET

Have the Winnipeg Blue Bombers improved this off-season?

Good question. The answer will be revealed in a few months.

What is known is the Blue and Gold have gotten younger — much younger — in the first two months of the Joe Mack-Paul LaPolice reign on Maroons Road.

Out with the old and in with the new applies not only to the stadium situation in Winnipeg. Word around the CFL is the Bombers are on a mission to become the league’s youngest team, and the numbers back it up.

Granted, every team still has several more signings and probably a few releases to announce before training camps begin in less than two months, but the off-season is more than two-thirds complete and the Bombers have hired the youngest batch of talent and released or traded the oldest group thus far.

The average age of the players the Bombers have brought in is 24.8 years; the average age of the players they’ve sent packing is 30.9 years. The latter group includes defensive ends Fred Perry, 35, and Gavin Walls, 30, defensive tackle Michael Landry, 31, and defensive back Lenny Walls, 30.

Mack, the new Bomber GM, at first called the statistics a coincidence, saying players are signed on an individual basis and not because of their birth certificates.

Eventually, though, he admitted the age of a player figures into his equation when selecting players — perhaps more than other GMs.

“I’m definitely conscious of it,” Mack said. “We’re conscious of it, and you want to be careful of not getting too old. But we still have the Doug Browns.”

That much is true. And just because Mack is bringing in baby-faced talent this off-season doesn’t mean all of them are going to make the team. Some of them will, however, in this salary cap era.

“In the NFL it’s very, very prevalent,” Mack said of youth movements. “A lot of teams don’t want to admit it, but there’s just such a vast savings in actual dollars and in salary cap space when you get a young guy. That’s just a fact of life. You just have to be aware of that.

“And it’s always good to get some new blood. I don’t know if you’re ever sure what the exact balance is between experienced guys and younger guys, but I definitely think it’s good to make sure that you have a balance between the two.

“… Hopefully we’ll have a couple young guys who will kind of step up and be exciting for us.”

The Bombers still have 19 of last year’s 24 starters on offence and defence under contract, and five of them are more than 30 years old. Mack said veterans are needed, among other reasons, to teach the youngsters about the nuances of the Canadian game and how to be a professional.

B.C. Lions GM and head coach Wally Buono is known for getting rid of players who appear to still be strong contributors, yet he’s usually judged correct in his assessments.

It sounds as if Mack, who is back in the CFL for the first time since 1987, might think along the same lines.

“It could be hockey, basketball, baseball or anything,” Mack said. “When does somebody kind of step off the cliff? You’d rather do that a year early than a year late.”


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