HAMILTON -- Just how much bang Winnipeg will get from its Buck depends on the health of its starting quarterback.
And just how much improvement will be made from a young team that didn't know how to win close games a year ago will fall on the shoulders of Buck Pierce, who, when healthy, is among the most lethal quarterbacks in the quarterback-happy CFL.
From the moment he arrived in the Peg, bad luck has followed Pierce, much like winter's cold blast followed Pierce whenever he ventured outside as he spent the entire off-season in Winnipeg, which in itself speaks to a guy who was fully committed in returning healthy and completely engaged.
So far, so good, but the Bombers have seen this before, only they remain hopeful that something new will unfold as a new season and new beginning officially kicks off Friday night in the Hammer.
"I remember Buck telling me early in camp that this is the most comfortable he's felt,'' Winnipeg head coach Paul LaPolice said of Pierce. "He hasn't played a lot in the system.
"He's excited every day and he says he's seeing things better before the ball is snapped."
Last year was not a season to remember for Pierce, who joined the Blue Bombers following five years in B.C.
Plagued by injuries, Pierce was limited to five games, prompting many to once again question his style, which is a delicate balance between fearless and reckless, and his durability.
For a guy who played his collegiate football at New Mexico State, Pierce could have sought the warm comfort of the U.S.
Instead, he decided to spend the entire off-season in Winnipeg.
"I went into it saying it's going to get cold,'' Pierce said. "And I'll learn as we go. Then my car wouldn't start a few times and I almost got frost bite.
"Then you realize the world doesn't stop and people get out and go to work in the morning. It wasn't as bad as everyone in the South thinks it is."
Every day, no matter the weather, Pierce would visit with Bombers officials in the hope of getting his mind and body ready for the 2011 season.
Every day, he'd make a point to get involved in the community, reaching out to fans and the corporate world.
Pierce must be the face of the Bombers franchise, but so much will ultimately depend on his ability to stay healthy, which in turn will determine how many games Winnipeg wins.
For the past two off-seasons, Glenn January, who protects Pierce's front side as Winnipeg's starting right tackle, spent his time in Winnipeg.
This past off-season, a familiar face joined him.
"We got a lot of good rehab in,'' said January. "Buck really engrossed himself in everything Blue Bomber. He donated his time whenever he could. He just had this level of dedication you don't see from of a lot of quarterbacks."
It was during a game in Hamilton last season when Winnipeg went with maximum protection, only to allow a hit on Pierce that knocked him out of the game with an elbow injury.
Having spent so much time preparing during the off-season, it's little wonder why Pierce enters this season in arguably the best shape of his career.
"We certainly think he's a top-rated quarterback in this league,'' LaPolice added. "And we expect good things from him."
And so Winnipeg should.
There's explosive, big-play ability out of the backfield in Fred Reid and a receiving unit led by game-changing slotback Terrence Edwards.
Winnipeg's O-line is solid, at least it looks solid on paper.
Pierce is the key, the great unknown who has the potential to turn a four-win season into a playoff-contending year.
"I was committed to the cause,'' Pierce said of the decision to stay in Winnipeg. "I made my mind up early and I wanted to put myself in the best possible position for us to be successful. I've done everything I could."
And now comes the moment of truth for Pierce, who is hoping to change an image, and for the Bombers, who are hoping to change a culture.
"For whatever reason, everyone thinks we're not good,'' added Pierce. "But I can tell you from the guys in our locker room that we feel we are pretty good, that we do have the right pieces.
"Can we go out there, execute and put everything together? That's the question mark."
It's a question that only time will answer.