WINNIPEG - Raise your hand if you’ve heard this one before: The Bombers’ chances this season rest on the health of Buck Pierce.
What else do you want me to say? That if the defensive line can give up fewer rushing yards or the secondary can get a few more interceptions or the offensive line can allow fewer sacks or the receivers can catch more balls, then everything will be OK?
We both know that’s not the case. The Bombers had the second most rushing yards last season. They had the most sacks. They surrendered the fewest passing yards. They had the rushing king, and they were a catch or two away from having the receiving leader as well.
Their No. 1 quarterback played two full games.
And that’s basically all there is to it.
Now, if they had been a bit more experienced they might have won a few of their CFL-record nine losses by four points or fewer. Winnipeg is still one of the league’s youngest teams, but they have a boatload of second-year players the brass hopes will flourish in their sophomore seasons.
Here is a closer look at the 2011 Winnipeg Blue Bombers:
Buck Pierce is once again the No. 1 gun after recovering from a dislocated elbow, and Joey Elliott, with two career starts under his belt, is No. 2. Alex Brink is the third-stringer.
ANALYSIS: Pierce has left 10 of his last 27 appearances due to injuries, including three of five last season. And while some on Maroons Road like to say Pierce was on an MOP pace when he was healthy last year, he was 1-4 as the quarterback of record. Elliott is making decent progress, but Pierce can’t afford to miss an extended period of time.
Reigning CFL rushing king Fred Reid returns for his third full season as Winnipeg’s starting tailback, and he’ll be backed up by non-import rookie Carl Volny.
ANALYSIS: You can’t go wrong with Fast Freddy, who should point out to Toronto’s Cory Boyd that he had fewer carries in 18 games than the Argos tailback had in 15 contests last year and still won the rushing title.
The receiving corps will consist of imports Terrence Edwards, who was second in CFL receiving yards last season, Terence Jeffers-Harris and Greg Carr. Second-year pass catcher Cory Watson will be one of two Canadians in the starting lineup, and it appears rookie Kito Poblah, who happens to be Watson’s childhood friend, will join him.
ANALYSIS: Carr had 568 receiving yards in seven games last season, which works out to 1,460 over an 18-game schedule. You can bet the Bombers are drooling over that stat. Jeffers-Harris is just as dangerous, and Edwards is among the league’s elite. If Watson can break out, look out. And don’t forget impressive newcomers Perry Floyd and Clarence Denmark are waiting in the wings.
We suspect the Bombers are going to keep their interior of Brendon LaBatte, Obby Khan and Steve Morley together, but sixth man Chris Greaves is ready to play and will evict anyone who falters. Glenn January and Andre Douglas will man the tackle positions.
ANALYSIS: One of the most underrated units in the CFL. Over the last five years the Bombers have consistently been among the league leaders when it comes to rushing yards and fewest sacks surrendered, and they had a CFL-best 6.7 yards per carry on first down in 2010. Their main mission, however, is to protect Pierce.
Veteran Doug Brown is back for his final CFL season, and he’ll line up alongside fellow tackle Dorian Smith, and rush ends Odell Willis and Jason Vega. It also looks like Winnipeg native Don Oramasionwu will get some action in the 3-4 set.
ANALYSIS: The D-line had 42 of Winnipeg’s league-leading 51 sacks last season, but it loses 16 of those with the departure of Phillip Hunt to the NFL. On the other hand, the Bomber defence is going to be much more aggressive under new co-ordinator Tim Burke. If the rookie Vega can pull his weight and Oramasionwu can make some hay, this could be an elite crew.
It’s the same trio as last year, with Clint Kent, Joe Lobendahn and Marcellus Bowman roaming the field. Kent will miss the season opener with an ankle injury, so it appears rookie Leslie Majors will get the start in Week 1.
ANALYSIS: Lobendahn came to camp on a mission and blew challenger Rico McCoy out of the water. Now he just has to keep it going for the entire season. Kent has turned into a top-notch strong-side linebacker, and the sophomore Bowman, who is developing into a feared hitter, should only improve.
One again, the usual suspects are back to sit on the town council of Swaggerville. Jovon Johnson, Jonathan Hefney, Alex Suber and Ian Logan are the incumbents, while it appears Brandon Stewart has been elected to the other cornerback spot ahead of Deon Beasley.
ANALYSIS: Last year the Bomber secondary allowed only 254 yards through the air per game — the exact number it allowed in 2007 when the Blue and Gold went to the Grey Cup. So obviously that stat means squat. Its interception total fell from a league-leading 31 in 2009 to just 17 in 2010, so that number needs to go back up in 2011. Then again, the Bombers intercepted only 10 passes in 2007, so go figure once again.
Justin Palardy returns for his first full season as the placekicker, Mike Renaud will continue to punt the ball, and Chris Cvetkovic is back on the field after missing all of 2010 with a knee injury.
ANALYSIS: Renaud had the CFL’s best net yard mark last season, while Palardy made 26 of 30 field goals after joining the team in August. That worked out to a franchise record success rate of 87%. You might say the placekicking position is set in stone, but the same thing was said last year at this time and Alexis Serna was gone before Labour Day.
Although no official announcement has been made, it appears Jovon Johnson will continue to return punts and rookie Perry Floyd will take care of the kickoffs.
ANALYSIS: Johnson is, statistically speaking, the league’s most dangerous punt returner after Toronto’s Chad Owens. Floyd, who is a receiver by trade, was a training camp star, but it’ll be interesting to see if he can transfer that to the regular season.