June 12, 2012
Bombers' battle of the boots
By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency
WINNIPEG - An interesting scene unfolded at the end of Blue Bomber practice, Tuesday.
The last hands on deck were actually the feet.
The incumbent, the challenger and the legend.
The former, of course, is Mike Renaud, the fourth-year Bomber punter trying to hang onto his job after a sub-par 2011.
The challenger, Eric Wilbur, a 28-year-old out of Orlando who wears the number of a linebacker, 35.
Wilbur will need the mentality of one, too, because he’s really up against three opponents in search of employment in the land of the loonie.
There’s Renaud, there’s his birth certificate — and there’s the legend.
As an American, Wilbur doesn’t just have to squeak out a training camp victory, going into Thursday’s first test in Montreal.
“I feel I have to be head and shoulders above my competition for the team to keep me,” he said. “If Mike goes out and has a great day and I have a great day, obviously they’re probably going to keep the Canadian.
“I don’t want to wish anything bad on Mike, but I need to do the best I can and hope fortune is on my side.”
Fortune is one thing. The legend is another.
Bob Cameron, the guru of CFL legs, is a confidante of Renaud’s, and Tuesday he was offering pointers to his brother of the boot.
That’s one-on-one tutelage you can’t put a value on.
A case of fellow Canucks conspiring against the Yank, perhaps?
“I’ll take favours from Bob, any day,” Renaud said.
If it’s only favours, I suppose Wilbur should consider himself lucky.
Because the closed fraternity of kickers can lead to some skullduggery when it comes to rallying behind each other, and against the new guy.
When the line drawn is the Canada-U.S. border, things can get downright nasty.
Cameron used to tell the story of his own tryout with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, how the helpful incumbent made sure the Canadian kid knew the opponent in the first pre-season game would likely try to block his first punt.
“Make sure you get it off quickly,” the warning went.
Every veteran worth his salt knows a punt block is the last thing on any team’s mind in an exhibition game.
But Cameron made sure he hurried that first kick, and shanked it.
Thanks for coming out, kid. Don’t forget your passport.
“It’s hard to do that to Eric,” Renaud said. “Eric’s a great guy. We get along so well. It’s just business on the field and you take care of it. But afterward we’re eating lunch together, playing hacky-sack in the locker-room.”
On the field, though, this is turning into a slugfest, Wilbur landing back-to-back, booming, 60-yard blows, Tuesday.
“Eric’s obviously a formidable opponent,” Renaud said. “Having played at (the University of Florida), he’s certainly no slouch.”
It seems the import is hitting his stride.
“It came around a little bit,” Wilbur said. “I can’t say who’s ahead right now. It seems like if one of us has a bad day, we both have a bad day. If one has a great day, we both have a great day.”
That’s probably no coincidence.
“I don’t know what it is,” Renaud said. “We’re kind of feeding off each other. He’s up there smashing balls and I’ve gotta match it, so I get up there and I smash the ball.”
Renaud couldn’t replicate Tuesday’s 60-yarders, but he probably shouldn’t try. His game is placement.
His plan for Montreal: perfection.
“Just smash the ball 50 yards, every time,” Renaud said. “I’m really looking forward to getting out there and doing what I’ve gotta do to be a Blue Bomber this year.”
The competition is close, according to the head coach.
“It’ll be good to see them live when the rush is coming,” Paul LaPolice said.
Practice punting is one thing, a game another, entirely.
The stakes are higher, the rush real.
Even if they’re not going for the block.