10 things Bombers must do to improve

Winnipeg Blue Bombers players gather on the field prior to their last CFL football game at...

Winnipeg Blue Bombers players gather on the field prior to their last CFL football game at CanadaInns Stadium against the Montreal Alouettes in Winnipeg, November 3, 2012. (REUTERS)

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:32 PM ET

When you’re 6-12 and have missed the playoffs three of the last four years, there is no such thing as a quick fix. It’s going to take a lot of hard work to get out of the muck.

That’s what the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are facing after extending their franchise-record Grey Cup drought to 22 years.

Here are 10 things the Bombers must do in both the short and long term to turn the ship around:

1. Solve the quarterback problem

It’s the most important question going into the off-season, but it’s the one that doesn’t really have an answer. Teams that have established quarterbacks aren’t going to trade them away because there are so few of them, which means no matter who the Bombers have under centre next season, he is going to be unproven.

That could be the oft-injured Buck Pierce, who needs to remain under contract — and start — until they can find someone better. It could be Alex Brink or Joey Elliott, who both should not be given up on yet. But will they both be here next year if Pierce stays?

There could be free agents out there like Adrian McPherson, Mike Reilly and Quinton Porter, but they, just like the rest of them, are not yet bona fide No. 1 CFL quarterbacks.

Good luck with that one, GM Joe Mack.

2. Determine who the SAM linebacker is

The top slotbacks in the league often go up against the strong-side linebacker, and the Bombers have been bumbling and fumbling at the position since cutting Clint Kent before the season began.

They wanted to use halfback Jonathan Hefney, but he didn’t want the job. So they turned to Brandon Stewart, who couldn’t do the job. Then they got Jovon Johnson to move from his cornerback position, and he was overmatched at the job. Then it was Demond Washington’s turn, but he got hurt. Then it was Johnny Sears, but he got hurt. So back it went to Washington, who finished off the season at SAM on Saturday.

Even though he’s a potential free agent, the Bombers need to tell Sears before he leaves that he’s going to be the strong-side linebacker next season. He has the size and the speed. Now he just has to learn it as well as he possibly can.

3. Know the replacements

This was a troubling theme with the Bombers this year: cutting a player without having a capable replacement waiting in the wings.

They released Kent and are still looking for the next one. They cut Obby Khan, and they replaced his replacement, Chris Kowalczuk, after one game. Whether or not Justin Sorensen is better than Khan is up for debate, but it’s the principle of the matter.

They cut middle linebacker Joe Lobendahn before Henoc Muamba was ready to take over as the quarterback of the defence and struggled early in the season because of it.

Mack needs to remember those names when making moves this winter.

4. Stop drafting futures

The number of quality Canadians who can play CFL football is not a large group, so when you have a chance to draft early in the first round you need to make it count.

Twice now Mack has taken someone for the future when their presence immediately would have helped. The fourth overall pick in 2011, receiver Jade Etienne, has made one catch in two years, while this year’s No. 3 selection, offensive lineman Tyson Pencer, probably wasn’t going to play even before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

As of now, the Bombers have the No. 2 pick next year. Make it count.

5. Get more disciplined

One of the reasons why Mack fired Paul LaPolice in late August was because the team was taking too many penalties.

Things haven’t exactly improved under Burke. The Bombers had an average of 80.8 penalty yards per game under LaPolice this season and got tagged for 79.2 under Burke. That’s not exactly an astounding improvement.

If there’s good news, it’s that the Bombers took 279 fewer penalty yards this year than last. That trend needs to continue.

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6. Flip the field

The Bombers rank near the bottom of the CFL when it comes to punting.

Mike Renaud has the ability to lift some gorgeous, booming punts, but he just doesn’t do it on a consistent basis.

Going into Saturday’s game, the Bombers were seventh in the league when it came to field position gained via the punt. That includes penalties, but Renaud’s average is also the second-worst in the league.

He’s shown he has the leg. He needs to find consistency in the off-season. This is an area that needs to improve.

7. Add some veteran presence

A huge problem this season was the lack of leadership in the locker-room. The veterans that were in there were not outspoken, and too many youngsters didn’t know what it meant to be a professional.

Any new veterans don’t have to be all-stars, but they should have a strong voice. The coaches coach, and the players need to come together as one. A couple of vocal leaders are needed in the locker-room to get them on the right path.

It didn’t look like the Bombers cared enough about losing this year.

8. Spend some money

The Bombers are about to come into some cash thanks to all the revenue streams that Investors Group Field will provide. A lot of it will have to go to pay down the debt for the place, but it’s time for the organization to step up to a new level.

The players are going to have a swank new home, so treat them like kings. Get them motivated to go out and fight for that W on their helmets. Cook them a delicious breakfast every day. Throw in as many perks as you can.

The players will love it, and they’ll be happy. When they’re happy, they’ll play better. Investors Group Field is a great opportunity for the franchise to move to a new level of respectability in the league.

9. Wake up!

This isn’t a huge aspect in the big picture, but when it goes on this long it should be worrisome.

The Blue and Gold got outscored 106-87 in the first quarter last season, and they were remarkably worse this year. They got outscored 145-45 in the opening 15 minutes in 2012, which unfortunately speaks to the team’s game planning.

The fact the Bombers are way better in the second half than in the first shows they are reacting to their opponents instead of taking it to them. That needs to change, or the losing will continue.

10. Football minds needed

Winnipeg’s organizational chart works well when the president and CEO has a football background, like Lyle Bauer did for his decade at the helm.

The problem now is you have a board of directors with only two football people on it who hired a president and CEO with no football experience who is now entrusted with deciding whether or not the football people they have in place know enough to end the Grey Cup drought.

And enough with the buddy hires. Bauer brought in his old friend Mike Kelly, and then Paul Robson and Joe Poplawski went way back in time to get Mack, who is 20-34 in three years at the helm.

Either let a billionaire buy the team and make every call, or, more realistically, get a few more football folks to help make the critical decisions. As with every organization, it starts at the top.

kirk.penton@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/PentonKirk

 


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