The Canadian Football League season continues to inch closer with the start of training camps less than three weeks away.
For Winnipeg Blue Bombers general manager Kyle Walters, the heavy lifting is already done in assembling another championship caliber club after winning the 2019 Grey Cup, but there’s still some I’s to dot and T’s to cross ahead of the July 10th start to camp.
Training camps will be limited to 100 players this year. The Bombers currently have 104 bodies listed on their roster, so barring injuries or retirements, the Bombers will have to trim some of the fat.
And so might some of the players. The players conditioning is one of Walters greatest concerns heading into camp. Walters calls player fitness levels the biggest unknown after nearly two years without games.
“How are the players gonna look?” Walters said. “It’s been what 17-18 months or whatever it’s been, since we saw our own players. It’s an interesting challenge every year when you bring up your young Americans who you saw in an NFL training camp a year or two ago. That’s always the big question when we talk about our Americans. Alright, this is the player we saw, let’s hope he looks like the guy we scouted. So now you’re saying it about your entire roster, not just your Americans.
“The guys that we saw that won the Grey Cup in 2019, let’s see what they look like when they show up. That’s very, very different than a normal year.”
On the offensive side of the football, the Bombers look almost identical to the team that hoisted the Grey Cup nearly two years ago. But there have been several key changes on defence since they last took to the field. Most notably are the losses in their defensive backfield of starters Marcus Sayles and Winston Rose.
Walters believes it’s in the secondary where they have the biggest question marks heading into camp.
“Losing Winston and Marcus, you’re boundary corner and boundary half who are very good football players,” said Walters. “That’s going to be the big focal point I think throughout training camp is to see, can Mike Jones slide in to the boundary, Josh Johnson who’s very versatile and can he move in there.
We do need to rely on some of the scouting, Ted (Goveia), Danny (McManus), and we scout for a reason, and bring up a lot of young Americans. And you’re gonna have to count on some of those guys to win jobs, particularly in the secondary.”
There’s also some holes in fill on special teams with the departures of kicker Justin Medlock and long snapper Chad Rempel.
Considering their Grey Cup drought is finally over, Walters admitted there’s probably less pressure internally than there would be for a defending champ in a typical season, also because so much time has passed since their Grey Cup win. But the goal and the expectations remain the same heading into a 2021 campaign that’ll probably be like no other.
“The parameters heading in are very different that none of us have ever gone through,” he said. “From an expectation standpoint, us like all the other teams, that once you step out on that field regardless of the parameters, whether it’s pre-season, no pre-season, any of that stuff, you expect to go out and win every football game you play.
“We believe that we’re going to line up, and compete, and put a good product on the field, and win every football game we play.”
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