Meet the new Blue D crew

Alex Hall will begin the season as the Bombers starting defensive end, replacing the departed Odell...

Alex Hall will begin the season as the Bombers starting defensive end, replacing the departed Odell Willis. Hall is a former NFLer who spent time with Cleveland, Philadelphia, Arizona, and the NY Giants. (Brian Donogh/QMI AGENCY)

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

WINNIPEG - Considering it was such a strong part of their team in 2011, there are a surprising number of changes on the defensive side of the ball for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2012.

No fewer than five of the 12 starting positions will have different players manning them when the Blue and Gold kick off the regular season on Friday night in B.C. against the defending champion Lions.

A sixth spot will also have a different face since weak-side linebacker Marcellus Bowman is out with a leg injury. Dustin Doe will start in his spot.

Add it all up, and it means half of Winnipeg’s top-ranked defence will look different than it did six months ago. The man in charge is somewhat concerned, but he’s confident his unit can remain among the league’s elite.

“It’s going to be harder, because you’ve got Ricky Ray and Henry Burris in the East, and Montreal’s still going to be good on offence,” defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke said. “Since we play more games against Eastern opponents, if we’ve come out with the same stats as we did last year, then I think we’ve gotten better. I hope that’s the case, but it’s going to be harder.”

The changes:

Strong-side linebacker: Veteran Clint Kent was released on Friday in a bit of a shocker, and he will be replaced by either halfback Jonathan Hefney or cornerback Brandon Stewart.

“That’s one of the reasons we made the move: We just wanted to have a better cover guy,” Burke said. “We’ve got so many good young DBs. We’ve gotta get some of them on the field.”

Defensive end: Former NFLer Alex Hall won the job created by the trade of Odell Willis to Saskatchewan. Kenny Mainor, who had eight sacks last year but was a healthy scratch in the playoffs, was unable to land the job.

“He did a better job pass rushing than Kenny did,” Burke said of Hall, who has 32 NFL games, including two starts, on his resume. “Kenny gave great effort, but he didn’t get to the quarterback, where Alex had two sacks and a couple hurries.”

Middle linebacker: Pierre-Luc Labbe has gone from 47th overall pick in 2008 (the reason he wears No. 47) to starting middle linebacker, beating out last year’s first overall draft pick, Henoc Muamba.

“He never makes a mistake,” Burke said. “He’s always where he’s supposed to be. He does a great job getting the front lined up.”

Nose tackle: Brandon Collier quietly went about his business in camp and is now playing where the retired Doug Brown spent the last 11 seasons.

“He’s very athletic for a nose guard,” Burke said. “He’s strong, he’s very quick with his feet, and he’s got good speed. He’s definitely going to have some push in the pocket.”

Finally, Johnny Sears will be taking over for either Hefney or Stewart in the secondary. Sears is a strong special teamer, and he has good size at 6-foot, 190 pounds.

THE EXTRAS

The Bombers announced their injured lists and practice roster on Sunday:

ONE-GAME INJURED

RB Carl Volny (knee)

QB Justin Goltz

OL Andre Douglas (hip)

LB Marcellus Bowman (leg)

DB Darrell Pasco

WR Cory Watson (hamstring)

LS Jordan Matechuk

NINE-GAME INJURED

OL Tyson Pencer

PRACTICE ROSTER

WR Isaac Anderson

LB Terrell Parker

WR Cassidy Doneff

DB Jeremy McGee

OL Brendan Dunn

RB Bloi-Dei Dorzon

WR Doug Pierce 


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