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2014 CFL Western Preview - Winnipeg Blue Bombers
From The Sports Network
By Brandon Lawrence, Associate Editor
Winnipeg, MB (SportsNetwork.com) - After a disastrous 2013 campaign, there's almost no place for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to go but up.
The Bombers finished last season at 3-15 - the worst record in the entire league.
Winnipeg began 2013 with a 38-33 loss to Montreal, and then defeated the same Alouettes a week later, 19-11, to even its record at 1-1. It seemed as though there was some hope for the remainder of the season.
But a string of seven straight losses sandwiched around a bye week proved otherwise, and the Blue Bombers were as far from making the playoffs as a team could get by the time the regular season came to an end.
With the addition of the Ottawa RedBlacks as an expansion team in 2014, the Blue Bombers moved over from the East Division to the West. Which means, in terms of the standings, they'll have to contend with powerhouses Calgary and Saskatchewan.
There's reason for optimism in Winnipeg at the start of the 2014 campaign, however, and it has to do with some major changes that were made during the offseason. For starters, general manager Kyle Walters will be the one running the show. And although he was only 2-10 last season after taking over as GM following the firing of Joe Mack, he was able to bring in a few fresh faces to hopefully help get the team heading in the right direction.
It all starts with the head coach. The Mike Kelly era has ended in Winnipeg, and one of the more highly touted coaching prospects will man the helm for the Blue Bombers this season in Mike O'Shea.
O'Shea is the former special teams coordinator in Toronto, and had a strong playing career in the CFL as well. He kept Marcel Bellefeuille on as the team's offensive coordinator, and former player Danny McManus is the new Assistant General Manager and is in charge of U.S. scouting.
The Bombers cleaned house in the final preseason cuts, shipping out 11 players, of which seven were either receivers or defensive backs. Receivers Mario Urrutia, Mark Dell, Jaymar Johnson and Bert Reed were all let go in the final cut, and defensive backs Stephon Morris, Michael Ray Garvin and Matt Pierce all got the boot as well. The biggest loss at receiver for Winnipeg was Terrence Edwards, who retired from the CFL. He had 549 yards and a touchdown last season.
They also let former starting quarterback Max Hall walk near the end of the preseason.
The Bombers were hoping to land former Toronto dual-threat signal caller Zach Collaros, but lost out on the sweepstakes to Hamilton. So Winnipeg brought in new quarterback Drew Willy, who has attempted just 147 career passes in the CFL. They also have former Louisville Cardinals quarterback and Green Bay Packers backup Brian Brohm on the roster.
Willy, if he wins the starting job, will have one of the more sought after free agents in the 2014 pool with whom he can connect. The Bombers landed receiver Nick Moore, who spent some time bouncing around the NFL before a breakout season with the BC Lions last year. Moore's 2013 campaign saw him finish third in the league with 1,105 receiving yards with six touchdown receptions.
Will Ford remains the go-to guy out of the backfield after leading the team in rushing in 2013 with 113 carries for 594 yards and two touchdowns. Chad Simpson and Justin Goltz, who combined for 14 rushing touchdowns last season, aren't on the roster this time around.
Defensively, the Bombers lost their leading tackler from a year ago in Henoc Muamba, who signed with the Indianapolis Colts back in February. Defensive back Demond Washington, who was second on the team with 78 tackles and tied for the team lead with two interceptions, returns as one of the key defensive playmakers. Bryant Turner Jr. and Zach Anderson, who each recorded seven sacks in 2013, return to the squad.
It was announced over the weekend that linebacker Korey Banks, cornerback Donovan Alexander and defensive back Alex Suber - all projected starters for the Winnipeg defense - will not suit up for the team's regular-season opener against Toronto on Thursday due to injuries.
Winnipeg will get its first crack at the RedBlacks in the second game of the regular season, and then will face Chad Johnson and the Alouettes the following week.
With a new coach, a new quarterback and a mentality that includes blocking out last season, the Blue Bombers will push ahead in the West Division and try to make it back to the Grey Cup for the first time since 2011.
FACTS & FIGURES: Division - Western. 2013 record - 3-15. Playoff result: Missed out on playoffs. Stadium - Investors Group Field. Capacity - 33,422. Colors - Blue and gold.
06/23 11:29:08 ET