Bombers face life after Odell

Odell Willis' trade to the Roughriders will have him fired up when he faces his old Bombers team...

Odell Willis' trade to the Roughriders will have him fired up when he faces his old Bombers team this season. (Brian Donogh/QMI Agency/Files)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:07 AM ET

WINNIPEG - Despite all his issues, there's something about Odell Willis's trade from Winnipeg to Saskatchewan that Bomber fans should probably admit right now.

There will be times it’ll come back to haunt the Big Blue.

I have no doubt the move has lit a fire under Willis, and wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Bombers get singed just a little, come the Labour Day Classic and Banjo Bowl.

If the speedy sack master has a career year, doesn’t pout, cleans up his penalties and stays out of trouble, you can be sure we masters of hindsight in the media will be quick to point out the Bombers let a good one get away and failed in their handling of the guy.

That said, the critics will be a tad tamer if GM Joe Mack unearths a suitable replacement, sans the baggage Willis hauled down the Trans-Canada along with his talent.

Candidates to replace the man, if not the on-and-off motor that was his mouth, include returnees Jason Vega, Rodney Fritz and Fernand Kashama, as well as an intriguing newcomer in Alex Hall.

While Hall doesn’t have the three-down experience the others have, he does bring those three magic letters on his resume: NFL.

A seventh-round pick of the Cleveland Browns four years ago, Hall appeared to be well on his way, suiting up for all 16 games as a rookie, starting twice and registering 26 tackles and three sacks.

Things have gone downhill ever since, as the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder was first reduced to special teams duty, then out of football altogether.

Enter Mack, a GM from a team and city Hall had never heard of.

“Mr Mack reached out to me, and told me he was really interested in me coming up here,” Hall said after Day 4 of training camp Wednesday. “The first thought was the goal posts. I didn’t know the goal posts were further up. And how cold it was.”

One of those we’ve taken care of for him. Although Hall, a native of Maryland, is one of those who doesn’t even think this is hot, yet.

His last experience with Canada was really cool: a visit to Niagara Falls as a kid.

The Bombers don’t need Hall to become a tourist attraction, but they’d love for opposing offences to have to account for him like they did for Willis.

“He’s going to cause some offensive tackles some problems,” defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke said. “He’s got a lot of range, he’s very athletic.”

And he may have a few more tricks up his sleeve than Willis, who amassed 24 sacks over the last two years.

“Odell was so fast off the edge,” Burke said. “Hall is still fast off the edge, but he’s got more countermoves than Odell did. If Odell could have developed more countermoves he would have had even more sacks.”

And if Willis had developed some more discipline, he’d still be a Bomber.

Asked how much he’d miss Willis, Burke’s short answer said it all.

“I’m really happy with the guys we have.”

And if that means there’s no marquee end to challenge for the CFL sack lead, so be it.

“You certainly would like to have that kind of guy,” Burke said. “Because then the offence is always saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got to double that guy...’ You’d like one, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t.”

Willis might be missed more in the locker-room than in the coaches offices.

“Of course, it’s a little bit less comical without the colourful personality,” Vega said.

Like Burke, Vega says the sacks can come by committee, if they have to.

“If you can have seven or eight guys that can get seven, eight sacks, you’re just as good if you have one guy who gets 15,” he said.

That may be true.

I just can’t help but wonder: what if that one guy comes back and gets seven or eight in the space of seven days in early September?

Just another issue in a Bomber season full of them.


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