Significant makeover for Bombers

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:01 AM ET

WINNIPEG - I don't know about you, but as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers dragged their beaten-up carcasses out of B.C. Place last November, I didn't expect this team to change all that much. Sure, we knew Doug Brown was going to retire. And we had an inkling the front office was growing tried of Odell Willis's act.

But other than those and maybe a couple of off-season moves we couldn't have seen coming, this was going to be basically the same team seven months down the road. Or so we thought.

Going into the 2012 lid-lifter in Vancouver this Friday, the Bombers have so many new starters not even their quarterback has a handle on them all.

“I don’t,” Buck Pierce said. “How many is it?”

It’s 11. Seven on offence, four more on defence.

“Wow,” Pierce said. “It’s a change business. That’s a part of the life we live.”

That number is a tad misleading, as two of the offensive starters (receiver Cory Watson and tackle Andre Douglas) are simply injured, while another (receiver Kito Poblah) didn’t play in the Grey Cup because he was hurt. On defence, injured linebacker Marcellus Bowman is also expected to resume his starting role in Week 2. But even without the injuries, the Bombers would be taking on the Lions with seven new faces in the starting lineup, four on offence.

That might not be a full-on, Kenny Rogers facelift, but it’s not a simple nip-and-tuck, either.

“We like our talent, though,” Pierce said. “We’ve made some improvements where we were lacking last year.”

At Canadian receiver, for instance, where Poblah for Aaron Hargreaves should be a huge upgrade. At import receiver, we’re not so sure, although Chris Matthews will do his best to make everybody forget about the towering Greg Carr.

“On paper he looks a lot like Greg,” Pierce said. “We want to get him in the game and see what he can do.”

Up front, where the really big men play, the big questions continue to hover. You don’t lose a starring Canadian like Brendon LaBatte and not feel it. Something tells me we’ll appreciate centre Obby Khan a little more in his absence, too. Ask the spokesman for the defence about all the changes and you get the impression there are still some leftover feelings, either from the off-season purges and defections or the recent, surprise release of Clint Kent.

“I’d rather not say how I feel about it,” Jovon Johnson said. “It’s a business. We live with what they do.”

Yes, and we second-guess it. The good part is it’s really easy to keep score. Kent, for instance, was quickly scooped up by Edmonton, and could get a chance to prove the Bombers wrong, up close and personal, as early as Week 4.

Up first, though, a test you wouldn’t wish on your best friends, let alone your favourite, rebuilt football team. The Leos rolled through the second half of last season like a well-oiled machine, while the Bombers were leaking the stuff before getting it together in time to win the East Final.

And while B.C. goes into the season as the powerhouse pick of most, Winnipeg, well, doesn’t. If Paul LaPolice wants a quick read on what he’s got, he’s about to get it.

“I don’t really factor into who we’re playing,” the coach began, believe it or not.

Then he came to.

“I told the team I’m excited we’re playing the team that was probably the hottest team in the CFL last year, at the end of the year, and a team everybody thinks is probably one of the elite teams in the CFL,” Coach LaPo said. “So it’s a good test for our team right out of the gate.”

That it is. When you think about it, perhaps significant change was in order, after all.

Because the Grey Cup left little doubt how far the Bombers still had to go. Friday will provide the first sense of when, or if, they’ll get there.


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