Bombers rushing to judgment

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:58 AM ET

WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will kick off their pre-season schedule on Thursday night in Montreal with five or six starting positions up for grabs.

One of the most important battles is at defensive end, where Remond Willis, Jason Vega and Kenny Mainor are trying to replace 2010 CFL sacks leader Phillip Hunt.

“You could make a strong argument that after the position of the quarterback those rush guys are the most important thing,” Bombers GM Joe Mack said Wednesday. “Because if they’re good players like Phillip and Odell (Willis) are, they really disrupt an offence.

“We’d really like one of those guys to step up, and I don’t know if they’d get to Phillip’s level, but at least approach that, because it’s really vital to disrupt an offence.”

Hunt used the CFL option-year window to sign with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in February.

Odell Willis is cemented in the “jack” position on the other end of the defensive line, and Remond Willis, who has been getting most of the first-team reps in training camp, would like to join his namesake as the other starter.

“You can show up every day in practice, but if you can’t transition what you did in practice to the game … they gotta evaluate you,” Remond Willis said. “So you gotta take it like there’s no tomorrow.”

Defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke said Willis has had good days and bad through 10 days of training camp.

“We’ve seen flashes of really good play, and then he’s been inconsistent,” Burke said. “We’d like to see him flash every play. We’ll be interested to see how he does in the game, whether it’s an every play thing or just a sometimes thing.”

Even though Burke is installing a new defensive system that will include three-man fronts, Mack said Hunt’s replacement will play 85% to 90% of the snaps on defence.

For Willis to grab that role, he knows what he needs to do on Thursday night at Molson Stadium.

“Playing defensive end, you don’t necessarily have to get sacks,” said Willis, who was released by the Bombers at the end of last year’s training camp and rejoined them in October. “You can knock down passes, you can get tackles for losses or knock your tackle into the backfield and disrupt the quarterback’s passes.

“It’s not all about sacks. Pressure is good enough.”

The Bombers will dress 50 players against the Alouettes on Thursday night, most of them CFL rookies. The Alouettes are expected to do the same.

“I’m anxious to see how we play,” Mack said. “Training camp would say that we have talent, but we have to put it together. I’m going to be really anxious to see particularly how some of the young guys do. So that’s kind of exciting.”


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