Bombers's Mack staying the course

From left, Winnipeg Blue Bombers vice-president and general manager Joe Mack and head coach Paul...

From left, Winnipeg Blue Bombers vice-president and general manager Joe Mack and head coach Paul LaPolice take part in the CFL draft at the Bombers' offices in May. Mack says he has no regrets on how the Bombers spent the off season, despite losing several key players. (JASON HALSTEAD/QMI Agency)

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:28 PM ET

WINNIPEG - Joe Mack is forging ahead with the status quo. He feels a little elbow grease is all that’s required to turn the Bombers’ season around.

“It’s all we can do,” the general manager said over the weekend. “All we can do is continue to try to work hard and try to get it turned around. We’re only a third of the way through the season, and we’re trying to be diligent and trying to move forward.”

The Bombers are 1-5, which is good for last place overall in the CFL and leaves them four points back of the other three East Division teams. There is still plenty of season left, but the Blue and Gold appear to be a lot longer from the playoffs than four points.

“Surprising, disappointing, frustrated,” is how Mack summed up the year so far. “I didn’t think we’d be at this stage. And even though I knew we were younger I thought we’d be more consistent. Myself and all the coaches are very frustrated, and we’re going to be working hard to try and find some answers.”

Mack says he’s surprised, but he shouldn’t be after the off-season he had. His top two Canadians, Brendon LaBatte and Doug Brown, left via free agency and retirement, respectively. The team asked centre Obby Khan to take a pay cut, but he balked and retired instead. Mack traded CFL sack co-leader Odell Willis to Saskatchewan because they didn’t think he wanted to be in Winnipeg any longer. They cut one of their top Canadian special teamers in James Green.

The problem with those moves wasn’t necessarily that they happened; it’s that Mack didn’t have alternate plans. His worst offence was he didn’t replace the veteran Canadian talent, which is critical to a CFL team’s success.

“We’re always doing a retro analysis, but if you think about it we tried hard,” Mack said. “Brendon LaBatte, obviously he had a predetermined interest to go home to Saskatchewan. There was one other player that we wanted on the offensive line (Dominic Picard), but by the time we realized we weren’t getting Brendon he had already committed to somebody else.

“I think we have a good corps of receivers. Although our running backs are young, I think they’re good. Our defence has been surprisingly inconsistent, although we have young players there. We expect they’re going to be on the same page moving forward.

“But off the top of my head I can’t think of any veteran that we had the opportunity to bring in that would have made a difference at this point.”

But how do you know if you don’t try? The only CFL veterans Mack has added in the last two off-seasons were defensive linemen Shawn Mayne and Ryan Lucas, and both were cut before the season began. Plenty of Winnipeg’s draft picks have made the team, but the Bombers are 15-27 under Mack’s watch, so how good are they really? And they may be good down the road, but they’re not there yet.

There should have been a bridge of Canadian talent, but there’s nothing the Bombers can do now. Other teams aren’t going to trade away decent Canadians.

As for import talent, Mack has found a couple of gems in receiver Chris Matthews and running back Chad Simpson, but as a whole the locker-room is young and the kids appear to be getting on the veterans’ nerves.

“We have to come back (from the bye week) in a different mind frame,” slotback Terrence Edwards said Friday, sounding like a frustrated father. “Screw all the playfulness and stuff. You’ve got to pay attention to detail, and we ain’t doing it right now. Guys think it’s okay to joke and jive, but it’s about winning games. This is how people feed their families. This is their livelihood.”

The off-season move Mack was most proud of was re-signing all three of his quarterbacks. They’re all making decent money, but Mack isn’t getting a return on his investment. Buck Pierce and Alex Brink have combined to complete a league-worst 55% of their passes. Winnipeg is the only team that has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. The combined efficiency rating is in the basement.

Mack, however, wouldn’t single out the quarterback play when asked how he felt they were performing.

“I’m not happy,” he said, “with any of our play so far.”

The winning better start soon, because the fans are starting to get mad. And when they start staying away is when we presume the penny-pinching Bomber brass will start comparing the cost difference between empty seats and buying out contracts.


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