Buck Pierce hopes the motivation of a starting job will help fill the offensive line holes left by the departures of Brendon LaBatte and Obby Khan.
The O-line is a massive question mark going into Bomber training camp, which kicks off unofficially a week from Wednesday when the rookies and quarterbacks hit the field. LaBatte, the team’s left guard and top O-lineman for the last three seasons, left for the greener pastures of Saskatchewan via free agency, while Khan retired after six seasons at the centre position.
Those are two important holes to fill, but Pierce has already been hard at work trying to patch them. He’s been taking snaps two or three times a week from veteran right guard Steve Morley and from rookie Chris Kowalczuk, who spent the last two years on Winnipeg’s practice roster.
The Bombers tried to lure Dominic Picard back to Winnipeg via free agency, but he, too, decided to join the Roughriders. That means the Bombers will be going into the season with someone who hasn’t played the position much or at all.
“Obviously I like to have as much experience around me as possible,” Pierce said. “This training camp’s going to be big for all of us to come together and be competitive. We’re gonna have competition at those spots, and that’ll bring out the best.
“I want those guys to come in and feel like they have a chance and be aggressive and go after that starting spot. When you do that as a young guy, it shows everybody around you that you’re serious and you want that opportunity. And that’s what I’m looking for, is a guy who comes in and gets better every day and competes every day and really just grabs hold of the opportunity there.”
The biggest adjustment for the player replacing Khan will be more mental than physical, according to No. 4.
“The main thing for them is to learn the system and learn the calls,” Pierce said. “Physically, I think they’ll be fine; snapping the ball and making the blocks. It’s just the mental aspect of going from one position into the centre position is a big jump.”
While the centre’s head will no doubt be spinning for the first part of camp, but he won’t be the only one on a steep learning curve. New offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton will be implementing his new system and learning on the go in his first CFL season.
“I don’t think it’ll be a complete overhaul, because some of the talent we had last year and some of the young guys really coming into their own, we don’t want to take away from what they can do,” Pierce said.
“We still feel we can stretch the field and have explosive plays on offence. We want to be more consistent up and down the field now. We want to be better on first down. That’s what he’s going to bring. It is going to be different, and there is going to be change. How much, we’ll see in a few weeks.”