Burning Blue Bombers questionsFive storylines to monitor for the last-place Blue
By KEN WIEBE, QMI Agency
|Blue Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice during a preseason game against the Tiger-Cats at Canad Inns Stadium in Winnipeg, Man., June 20, 2012. (JASON HALSTEAD/QMI Agency)
WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Blue Bombers bye week has come to an end, with a whimper and not a bang.
As Blue Bombers general manager Joe Mack suggested to my colleague, Kirk Penton, in their discussion last Saturday, there were no knee-jerk reactions, no blockbuster trades, no releases to shake up a locker room of players that has produced a 1-5 record through one-third of the 2012 CFL season.
But what impact will this approach have as the Blue Bombers try to get the season turned around and get back to work on Saturday morning at Canad Inns Stadium to prepare for a meeting next Thursday with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats?
That’s a big question. Don’t worry, it’s far from the only one.
Here are five storylines we’ll be monitoring as the Blue Bombers get set for the second third of the campaign:
1) Who’s behind centre?
This question has been on the front burner since Buck Pierce got hurt for the second time in three games back on July 13. Alex Brink has shown flashes, winning one of his three starts but there have been plenty of calls to give Joey Elliott a shot.
As head coach Paul LaPolice reiterated earlier this season, the backup quarterback (or in this case, the next guy in line) is often the most popular guy in town because he hasn’t played enough to draw the ire of the fans.
The wild card in the scenario is Buck Pierce. The Blue Bombers have said repeatedly that they won’t rush Pierce back, but he’s also ahead of schedule in his rehab and could force himself into the equation with a strong week of practice.
2) Can the Blue Bombers find balance?
Closely linked to question No. 1, the Blue Bombers have failed to put together a game when the ground attack and air attack is clicking on all cylinders. Chad Simpson has given the running game a serious boost, but in their last loss he was limited to only seven carries for 65 yards and an impressive 9.3 yard average. However, the Blue and Gold were so far behind they couldn’t stick with the run game. Slow starts in every game have put a tremendous amount of pressure on the passing game and establishing the run early would help alleviate some of those concerns.
3) Will the defence find its swagger?
You had to expect there was going to be some drop-off for the unit after the departures of Doug Brown, Odell Willis and Clint Kent and the myriad of injuries that has led to many players moving to different positions, but nobody predicted this. While the Blue Bombers have had ample moments where their bend-but-don’t break mentality has kept the team in games they had no business in, uncharacteristic breakdowns, especially in the secondary, have led to far too many big plays and long touchdowns that have been backbreakers. If that doesn’t change, the Blue Bombers have no hope of digging out of this hole.
4) Can the special teams units keep it up?
This group has collectively answered the most questions of any facet of the game to date. Punter Mike Renaud did enough to keep his job in training camp and has been steady so far and kicker Justin Palardy has upped his accuracy and looks more like the guy of 2010 than the one who endured some issues last season. In the return game, newcomer Demond Washington already has one touchdown and has shown to be dynamic at times — though it should be noted his numbers aren’t quite as eye-popping since he moved into a starting position at halfback.
5) Will Joe Mack continue to stand pat?
With only one win to date and two extremely tough matchups at home against the Ticats and B.C. Lions before the home-and-home with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, there’s a real possibility that the Blue Bombers might only have one or two wins at the midway point. Does the third-year GM continue to stick with his young roster, can he find a few diamonds in the rough from the NFL camps he visited or might he finally consider adding a more experienced player via trade or possibly free agency? If he doesn’t, you can be sure that the rebuild is on and that won’t be music to the ears of a fan base that is seeking its first Grey Cup in 22 years.