Bombers' Burke not resting on laurels

Blue Bombers defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke has headed south the last two off-seasons studying...

Blue Bombers defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke has headed south the last two off-seasons studying the defences of Super Bowl champions. (CHRIS PROCAYLO/QMI Agency)

Paul Friesen, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:54 PM ET

WINNIPEG - Tim Burke figures it’s a whole new ball game in the CFL East.

And the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive co-ordinator, fresh off an unsuccessful attempt at landing his first head coaching gig, is going to make sure he stays one step ahead.

At least, that’s the plan.

Now that he knows he won’t be in charge of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats this year, Burke will get busy adding wrinkles to the game plan that saw his defence take the Bombers all the way to the Grey Cup game last season.

“You always have to evolve,” Burke said during a conference call with reporters, Monday. “Any time you think you’ve arrived and anytime you think, ‘Oh, we’re really good’ and all that, you’re setting yourself up for failure.”

To see just how much Burke believes in that mantra, you only have to look at his last two off-seasons.

Two years ago, he was coming off a Grey Cup victory with Montreal, but instead of putting his feet up and leafing through his press clippings, he took advantage of his association with two assistant coaches in New Orleans and visited the Super Bowl champion Saints.

Ditto last season.

As he readied to take over the Bomber defence, Burke did the same with the champion Green Bay Packers, where he had a connection through Winnipeg GM Joe Mack.

The mission: find out the latest trend in pro football defence.

“A lot of NFL teams are very tightlipped about what they do, and you can never get in to see them,” Burke explained. “And there are some NFL teams that just don’t fit our style of play. The past couple of years we were able to visit the two teams that won the Super Bowl. Usually you’re not able to get in and visit those teams, because their off-season is so short.”

Burke says it’s too early to say whose brain he’ll pick this winter.

“It just kind of depends on who you’re able to get in to see,” he said. “And that determines what you learn, too.”

Last season the Bombers tweaked their use of defensive end Odell Willis, occasionally lining him up as more of a linebacker, a move that produced huge results in the first half of the season.

That first-half success — Winnipeg opened the season 7-1 — allowed the 10-8 Bombers to nose out the Alouettes for first place in the East, which they parlayed into a Grey Cup trip.

Whatever pointers Burke picks up, he’ll be applying them in what figures to be a more competitive division in 2012.

Toronto’s trade for Ricky Ray and Hamilton’s acquisition of Henry Burris, coupled with the continuing excellence of Anthony Calvillo in Montreal, has turned the East into the Quarterback Legends Tour, and defences had better be paying attention.

“Obviously both those teams have acquired Grey Cup caliber quarterbacks,” Burke said. “That in itself adds a tremendous dimension. Obviously the East is going to be a lot tougher race. It’s going to be a heck of a battle just to make the playoffs in the East.”

Toss in two new head coaches — former Als offensive co-ordinator Scott Milanovich in Toronto, longtime CFL passing-game guru George Cortez in Hamilton — and the Bombers might well look around the division and wonder where they are this year.

The good news: Burke should have most of his starters on defence back. Give or take a Jovon Johnson cracking an NFL lineup, the only change he anticipates is Doug Brown’s retirement.

So things should be OK on that side of the ball.

Now is there any way to get head coach Paul LaPolice in the Saints’ or Packers’ door, too?

Because if anybody could use a pointer or two from those teams, it’s the guy running the Winnipeg offence. 


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