Bombers bucking the trend

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:49 PM ET

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers start their 2010 training camp on Sunday morning with 18 of 24 starters back, along with all of their specialists.

This can be viewed as either a good thing or a bad thing.

The Bombers were 7-11 last season and missed the playoffs. Bringing back so many starters could be viewed as not enough turnover.

On the other hand, the 2009 Bombers were viewed as a team with two major problem areas: quarterback and head coach, both of whom are gone. In addition, the new bosses — GM Joe Mack and head coach Paul LaPolice — say no one’s starting job is safe.

We actually kind of believe them, too, so don’t be surprised if there are a few surprises.

Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of the 2010 Bomber training camp, complete with who’s back, who’s in, who’s out and what to look for at each spot as the Blue and Gold begin their quest to end their ugly 19-year Grey Cup drought.

QUARTERBACK

STILL HERE: Adam DiMichele

NEW ARRIVALS: Buck Pierce, Steven Jyles, Alex Brink

ADIOS: Michael Bishop (released), Ricky Santos (released), Stefan LeFors (retired), Casey Bramlet (released)

THE SKINNY: It’s Pierce’s starting job to lose, and the veteran with 21 career victories doesn’t appear to be in danger of losing it. The big question is whether he can stay healthy. If he can’t, Jyles, the former Roughrider who signed as a free agent, would step in. Brink looked solid in rookie camp.

RUNNING BACK/FULLBACK

STILL HERE: Fred Reid, Yvenson Bernard, Daryl Stephenson, Jon Oosterhuis

NEW ARRIVALS: Emmanuel Marc, Andre Sadeghian

ADIOS: No one

THE SKINNY: Reid returns as the incumbent tailback, but many feel Bernard, a sophomore, could push him. Marc is also an intriguing prospect who could make this camp battle more interesting than it already is. The Canadian fullback could see the ball more in LaPolice’s offence.

RECEIVER

STILL HERE: Adarius Bowman, Aaron Hargreaves, Brock Ralph, Terrence Edwards, Jabari Arthur

NEW ARRIVALS: Chris Davis, Terence Jeffers-Harris, Kenny Strickland, Travis Shelton, Willie Foster, Cory Watson, Scott McHenry, Will Franklin

ADIOS: Otis Amey (released), Titus Ryan (NFL-Dallas), Dudley Guice Jr. (NFL-Indianapolis)

THE SKINNY: Bowman, last year’s leading receiver, will anchor this group, while Edwards, the veteran of the group, will be looking to get back on track. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. When it comes to imports, Davis has CFL experience and Jeffers-Harris looked superb in rookie camp. As for the Canadians, the veteran Ralph will have a leg up, but Watson, the top draft pick this year, has LaPolice excited already. Receiver will be a great camp battle to watch.

OFFENSIVE LINE

STILL HERE: Brendon LaBatte, Steve Morley, Glenn January, Obby Khan, Ryan Donnelly, Luke Fritz

NEW ARRIVALS: Kelly Butler, Andre Douglas, Adam Bestard, John Hashem, Chris Kowalczuk

ADIOS: Kelly Bates (released-Saskatchewan)

THE SKINNY: The Bombers could easily return last year’s starting five and feel confident, but it doesn’t work that way in pro sports and especially after a regime change. During the winter LaPolice said he’s interested in seeing what Fritz, a backup for most of last season, can do, and Butler, a former NFL starter, is a beast at 6-foot-8 and 350 pounds who will definitely challenge January for the import spot on the line.

SPECIALISTS

STILL HERE: Alexis Serna, Mike Renaud, Chris Cvetkovic 

NEW ARRIVALS: Adam Bestard (long snapper)

ADIOS: Troy Westwood (released)

THE SKINNY: For the first time in what seems like forever, there is no battle at the kicking positions. Serna is coming off a season in which he set a team record for field goal success, while Renaud showed he can get the job done at punter. The only question mark is how Renaud will perform after the major knee surgery that ended his season last October. Cvetkovic is the incumbent long snapper whose name you never hear. That’s a good thing if your name is Cvetkovic.

KICK RETURNER

STILL HERE: Jovon Johnson

NEW ARRIVALS: Travis Shelton, Willie Foster

ADIOS: No one

THE SKINNY: Johnson, the team’s most outstanding player in 2009, also happens to be the squad’s star cornerback. LaPolice, therefore, is hesitant to let Johnson pull double duty this season. The brass is also high on Shelton, a cousin of NFL return man Devin Hester. LaPolice said the best man will win the job.

DEFENSIVE LINE

STILL HERE: Doug Brown, Odell Willis, Phillip Hunt, Dorian Smith, Don Oramasionwu

NEW ARRIVALS: Remond Willis, Chris Greaves, LaDarien Scott, Deji Oduwole, Moton Hopkins, Jarrell Chandler

ADIOS: Gavin Walls (trade-Montreal), Fred Perry (released), Pat MacDonald (free agent-Montreal), Michael Landry (released), Justin Shaw (released)

THE SKINNY: It’s out with the old and in with the new, as Willis and Hunt officially take over for the departed Walls and Perry. Brown will be his usual stud Canadian self on the inside, while Smith, the incumbent sophomore, goes into camp with the edge to line up beside him.

LINEBACKER

STILL HERE: Ike Charlton, Joe Lobendahn, Pierre-Luc Labbe

NEW ARRIVALS: Chad Nkang, SaMario Houston, Rian Wallace, Giancarlo Rapanaro, Thaine Carter, Courtney Smith, Chris Smith, Marcellus Bowman

ADIOS: Barrin Simpson (released-Saskatchewan), Siddeeq Shabazz (released), Derrick Doggett (NFL-Pittsburgh), Neil McKinlay (retired)

THE SKINNY: Charlton can probably rest knowing he’s the starting strong-side linebacker, but the others have to be considered up in the air. Lobendahn has experience in the middle, but needs to stay healthy. The weak-side linebacker spot is wide open, with SaMario Houston and former NFLer Chad Nkang listed on the depth chart.

SECONDARY

STILL HERE: Jovon Johnson, Ian Logan, Keyuo Craver, Brandon Stewart, Nick Kordic, Brady Browne, Shawn Gallant

NEW ARRIVALS: Brandon Hicks, Donald Brown Jr., Jason Tate, Clint Kent, Alex Suber, LaVar Glover, Jerry-Ralph Jules

ADIOS: Jonathan Hefney (NFL-Detroit), Lenny Walls (released-Edmonton), James Johnson (not re-signed), Steven Holness (free agent-Montreal)

THE SKINNY: Johnson, the team’s MOP in 2009, is back to man the weak-side corner, and Logan, as long as he’s healthy, will return to the starting safety spot. After that, it’s a little less clear. Glover, a former B.C. Lion, is listed on the depth chart as the other starting corner, which pushes Craver, last year’s starter there, inside to halfback. That leaves the other halfback spot, manned last year by Hefney, wide open. Stewart, a sophomore who didn’t get much playing time last year, and Kent, a former Montreal Alouette, are among the contenders. This will be another exciting camp battle to watch.

kirk.penton@sunmedia.ca


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