Answering Your Blue Bomber Questions

Brendan (@blue_gold_sydor) asks: My dad says [Jordan] Reaves is just [training camp] fodder. I think he could be a diamond in the rough. What are your thoughts?

Reaves is a very intriguing prospect. His physical gifts are undeniable. Reaves ran a 4.69 40 yard dash at the Edmonton Regional Combine last week, a very solid time for someone who’s 6’5 and weighs 215 pounds. For reference, Andy Fantuz (6’4, 220) ran a 4.79 40 yard dash four years ago when he tried out for the Minnesota Vikings.

With that being said, making the jump from a CIS football program to the CFL is tough for even the most developed university athletes. Making the jump to the CFL from a CIS basketball program poses a completely different set of challenges. Reaves will need a ton of reps to relearn the game (he’s not played football since he was fifteen years old), something that will be difficult for the Bombers to provide unless he can beat out guys like Kris Bastien and Kurt Goodrich for a roster spot. With all due respect to Reaves, I don’t like his chances.

The only player I know of who came to CFL under similar circumstances to Reaves is athletic freak Chris Hodgson, a former semi-professional hockey player who played one year of football at Saint Mary’s before being drafted in the 6th round of the 2011 CFL draft. Hodgson never cut it in the CFL, even with his remarkable athletic ability. If I had to put money on it, I’d guess the same will happen to Reaves.

Though I’d be happy to be proven wrong, Brendan, I think your dad is right. Unless Reaves is willing to take a practice roster spot, I don’t see him in blue and gold come the 2015 regular season.

Ryan Konrad (@ryankonrad) asks: Is [Nic Demsky] worth drafting 2nd overall and taking two OL with 11 and 15? Or do we draft OL at 2 and trade up [for] him?

At this time, I don’t believe Nic Demski is worth the second overall pick in the draft. Though the draft landscape will shift once the NFL draft wraps up five weeks from now, it’s debatable whether or not Demski is even the best receiver available in this draft class. Lemar Durant out of SFU, for one, looks like the best CFL receiver prospect since Shamawd Chambers back in 2012, while Calgary’s Jake Harty and Regina’s Addison Richards have made noise as well.

Earlier today, Kyle Walters told TSN1290 that he believes Nic Demski to be the best receiver available in this year’s draft. It’s clear the Bombers covet him – Walters loves him and his selection would be great for club PR. The question becomes how many players get drafted before Demski, something we won’t be able to accurately predict until the NFL has a chance to sniff around Durant, Brett Boyko, and Alex Mateas, among others.

For more thoughts on the 2015 draft, check out my blog post from January. Since the Cory Watson trade took place after this post was written, I’d like to add that I think drafting two offensive linemen with their first three selections would be a mistake for the Bombers. Walters and company simply have too many holes on their roster to allocate their picks this way.

Randal Nickel (@OpenDoorED) asks: How are the #Bombers ever going to beat the #Stampeders?

The Bombers won the last time the two teams played, so…

Garrett Billan (@garrettbillan1) asks: Who do you see as the Bombers’ 3 starting LB this year? Where does Hurl fit in?

The linebacker position is by far the Bombers’ most intriguing heading into 2015. Mike O’Shea and his staff can pencil in the depth chart at virtually every position with the exception of Aaron Kelly’s vacated receiver spot (I like newcomer Toney Clemons in this race), right tackle (more on that in a moment), and – oh yeah – all three linebacker spots.

The first consideration is how the Bombers will manage the ratio in 2015. Last season the Bombers typically started three national offensive linemen, two national receivers, and a combination of Jake Thomas at defensive tackle, Teague Sherman at strong-side linebacker, and Matt Bucknor at field-side corner. This year, the Bombers’ options are a little more limited. Sherman has moved back to safety and the club seems to be moving away from Thomas as a full-time starter (which, in my opinion, is probably for the best – Thomas is a solid rotational guy who can start in a pinch, but he’s not a true starter in the CFL). This leaves the seventh national starting spot vacant.

Enter Sam Hurl. Hurl started a handful of games at middle linebacker for Saskatchewan last season with very moderate success. With that being said, there are signs that Hurl could take steps toward becoming a more accomplished player in blue and gold. For one, it figures that Richie Hall supported the decision to pay Hurl big money in free agency. From this we can infer that the decision to bench Hurl in Saskatchewan was probably forced upon Hall by Cory Chamblin. Secondly, Mike O’Shea was a starting national middle linebacker in the CFL for the better part of two decades – there’s no one better to instill confidence in Hurl than Coach ‘Osh’.

If Hurl can prove he belongs at middle linebacker, the issue of the seventh national starter is solved. And having solid depth behind Hurl in the shape of Graig Newman and 2014 draftee Jesse Briggs doesn’t hurt.

That leaves the two outside linebacking spots wide open. Does incumbent SAM linebacker Don Unamba fit into Hall’s scheme? Which newcomer wins the position battle at WILL? It’s likely we won’t have the answer to these questions until training camp. It’s early, but I like what I’ve seen on film from newcomer Shamari Benton.

Garrett Billan (@garrettbillan1) asks: Who starts at RT and who is the 6th OL on game days?

I see Matthias Goossen as the team’s sixth lineman, though he’ll probably end up starting at right guard by week three when Patrick Neufeld inevitably gets hurt. After that, I’m interested to see whether or not 2014 draftee Quinn Everett is able to crack the roster. Just 22 years of age, the 6’3, 292 pound Mount Allison product spent the 2014 season finishing up his senior year of eligibility out east. Figuring Steve Morley is released, Everett will be in tough to prove he belongs above any offensive linemen the Bombers select in the upcoming draft.

As for your question pertaining to the right tackle position, I believe the guy who’s penciled in at the starting position is Marc Dile. Newcomers David Mims (a behemoth at 6’8, 335 pounds) and Zebrie Sanders will also be in competition for the spot along with returning linemen Jace Daniels and Devin Tyler. It’s a battle I’m looking forward to watching in training camp.

Garrett Billan (@garrettbillan1) asks: Do the Bombers make the playoffs? Final record and prediction on West standings?

This question will be the focus of a future blog post I’ll write just prior to the start of the regular season, but my short answer is yes, I absolutely see the Bombers making the playoffs. I see them finishing third in the west at 10-8. But more on that in a couple of months.

Brendan (@blue_gold_sydor) asks: Why did the #Bombers take the neg list player off of the list in the Watson trade? I heard [Saskatchewan] just added him again?

There are only two reasons why a team would remove a player from their negotiation list: 1) the player refuses to sign with the club, and 2) the team is no longer interested in signing the player. Given the extent to which the Bombers gushed about the “anonymous” player (the Winnipeg Sun’s Kirk Penton reported weeks ago that the player in question was linebacker Donovan Bonner), I have a hard time believing that Walters and company suddenly lost interest in signing the player in question. With this in mind, I believe the only reasonable explanation is that Bonner refused to sign with Winnipeg.

While this news is disappointing, I still look upon the Cory Watson trade with approval. As it turns out, Watson was threatening to retire if the Bombers refused to trade him, making any return a decent one. And the return – though Bastien’s ability to contribute remains to be seen – was more than decent, particularly given 1) Watson’s history of injury, and 2) Watson’s unwillingness to extend his contract with Saskatchewan past this season. Oh, and the fact that the Bombers picked up another $40,000-$50,000 in cap space doesn’t hurt.

Imagine – Saskatchewan may have just traded a solid, young national receiver and the 15th pick in a monumentally deep draft in exchange for four or five games out of Cory Watson and the 26th selection in the same draft year. What a win that would be for the Bomber brain trust.

Garrett Billan (@garrettbillan1) asks: How about a mock draft with added analysis on who you see the Bombers taking in the first 2 rounds?

Expect a long-form mock draft in around six weeks.

Darren Spurril (@realviking32) asks: What do you think of Doug Brown’s column from a couple weeks back where he states taking an OL 1st is best?

I read the column. I didn’t agree with it. I’ve said all off-season that the Bombers should only use the second overall selection on an offensive lineman if he projects as a tackle in the CFL. In this draft there are two: Richmond’s Jacob Ruby and Laval’s Danny Groulx. Neither exactly lit up the combine – though I’ve yet to watch the one-on-one drills (I’m currently on vacation and wasn’t available to watch the live stream), I didn’t see anyone on twitter talking up Ruby’s performance. I saw a few folks talking up Groulx, but his testing numbers didn’t jump off the page. I should add that a lot of what teams see in Ruby and Groulx will be determined in the interview process – playing tackle in professional football requires a lot more intelligence and discipline than most positions. Sadly, we’re not privy to what goes on in team interviews.

Ultimately, it appears Sukh Chung out of Calgary is the type of player Brown is urging the Bombers to select. He’s a stud prospect with a great balance of skill, athleticism, and toughness. He’ll probably be a very good CFL guard for the next ten years. The question becomes whether or not there’s a spot for him along the offensive line. At this time, with Neufeld or Goossen already projected to find himself in a back-up role, I’m not so sure there is.

All of this changes if the Bombers believe Chung can play tackle at the CFL level. The issue is that Chung has only ever played guard – a change in position at this point in his career would likely be unwise.

EDIT: I was able to watch the CFL combine OL-DL one-on-ones today. I really liked what I saw from Groulx. Great power in run blocking, swift footwork in pass protection. Could be a great selection at second overall.

Brendan (@blue_gold_sydor) asks: Who will step up or be replaced on the d-line this year? I really like #44 [Zach] Anderson.

I think Anderson and Bryant Turner are your week one starters at defensive tackle. It won’t be as formidable a pairing as some CFL teams boast, but it’s certainly a solid interior. Provided Anderson has fully recovered, I expect him to become more of a household name this year in the CFL.

As for the defensive end position, I think Greg Peach continues starting. He’s hardly an elite athlete, but he’s the type of lunch pale player O’Shea loves. The issue is who the Bombers can pair with Peach. Sadly, Jason Vega was poor last season. He had just sixteen tackles and five sacks, meager numbers that I still felt flattered his play. Surprisingly, the Bombers have yet to sign a defensive lineman since the end of the 2014 season. From this I think we can infer that the club is at least partially willing to give Vega another season. I just wish there was more competition being brought in.

Ryan Konrad (@ryankonrad) asks: Do the Bombers trade pick 2 and get maybe two top 12 picks in return and get Demski with one of them?

The top picks in this draft have monumentally large value. I doubt the Bombers trade away the second overall pick.

EDIT: Darren Cameron confirmed in his latest blog that the Bombers will not be trading the second overall pick.

As for Demski, it depends on how far he falls. A trade possibility I floated on twitter the other day was the Bombers moving the 11th and 15th picks in the draft to Hamilton for the 8th overall pick (to be used on Demski) and the rights to unsigned draft pick Evan Gill.

I will say this – if the Bombers want Demski, they’ll have to move up from eleven. I’d be stunned if the RedBlacks didn’t take him at 10 if he falls out of the first round.

Thanks to everyone for reading and a special thanks to everyone who submitted questions!

John Hodge, Blue Bomber Talk

Twitter: @BlueBomberTalk

Email: [email protected]

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.