The CFL teams with the best national talent win the most games. Period.
This has been true for as long as the CFL has mandated a ratio of national and international players. It just comes down to simple math, really. The talent pool of international players is exponentially larger than that of national players, making it a challenge for CFL teams to find enough talented nationals to fill out a roster. It is for this reason that national players are so highly coveted in free agency and paid such exorbitant salaries compared to their international counterparts. National players who can start and/or dominate on special teams are simply worth their weight in gold.
And, for a long time, the lack of national talent found on the Blue Bomber roster was one of the primary reasons for the team’s perennial failure. While having an elite-level quarterback would have dramatically improved the fortunes of every Bomber team dating back to 2004, having an elite group of nationals would have done wonders to help remedy the team’s shortcomings at the pivot position. Sadly, the Bombers’ track record of fielding elite groups of national talent resembles the list of films that follow The Matrix on the Wachowski brother’s directorial IMDb page: awkward, sad, and pathetic.
Fortunately, for the first time in well over a decade, it appears the Bombers are finally starting to surpass other CFL teams in the area of national talent. Gone are the days of scraping together a razor-thin list of seven national starters and praying that all seven remain healthy for an entire season. Instead, the 2015 Blue Bombers are poised to do something that the CFL’s best teams have always done: start more than the CFL’s minimum of seven national players. Let’s take a look at how they’ll do that.
Position: Offensive Line
Potential Starting Spots: 3
The Bombers will start national players at all three interior spots along the offensive line this season. Dominic Picard, one of the league’s top centres, will start in the middle, while incumbent guards Chris Greaves and Patrick Neufeld will be challenged by blue chip prospects Matthias Goossen and Sukh Chungh. 2014 draftee Quinn Everett and undrafted free agent Thomas Griffiths should also not be ruled out after finishing up their CIS eligibility last season with Mount Allison and Wilfred Laurier, respectively.
Potential Starter Spots: 2
Incumbent starters Rory Kohlert and Julian Feoli-Gudino lead a group of receivers that is very young but chock-full of potential. Ezra Millington and Kris Bastien are the club’s only two depth players with CFL experience but impressed at the club’s mini-camp in Florida last month. Meanwhile, rookies Addison Richards and Jordan Reaves, both 6’5, bring a ton of size and athleticism to a receiving core that desperately needed a higher compete level a season ago. It may be one season too early for the Bombers to start two national receivers in 2015, but this group has as much talent as I’ve seen from a Winnipeg national receiving group in more than a decade.
Position: Defensive Line
Potential Starting Spots: 2
In what some consider to be the biggest free agent acquisition of the entire CFL off-season, the Bombers signed former NFL player Jamaal Westerman to a three-year contract just under a month ago. Westerman is expected to become an immediate starter with the club and provide a pass rushing presence that was missing from Jason Vega’s defensive end spot a year ago. Key to the Westerman signing was the addition of Ivan Brown back in February. Brown, an Argonaut a year ago, is a decent pass rusher who will rotate with Westerman and could even start for the club if injuries start to really pile up. Also deserving of mention is defensive tackle Jake Thomas who started all eighteen games for the Bombers a year ago. Though he won’t start in game one of the season, Thomas is a capable starter who will step back into a starting role if injuries require him to do so.
Potential Starting Spots: 2
Sam Hurl was signed away from Saskatchewan back in February and his salary, rumored to be in the neighborhood of $130,000, shows that the Bomber brain trust sees him as a starter at middle linebacker. With the team’s ratio landscape changing after the Westerman signing, however, Hurl will have to compete with international newcomers Denicos Allen, Rodney Lamar, and Khalil Bass if he hopes to earn the starting job. 2014 draftee Jesse Briggs brings nice depth to the MLB position, while Graig Newman – signed away from Saskatchewan last season before spending the entire year on the injured list – and rookie Garrett Waggoner will compete at the weak-side linebacker position.
Position: Defensive Back
Potential Starting Spots: 2
Matt Bucknor started all eighteen regular season games at the field-side cornerback position last season and is expected to do so again in 2015. 2014 draftee Derek Jones will do all he can to give Bucknor a run for his money, while rookie Brendan Morgan adds depth at both the field-side cornerback and safety positions. University of Manitoba product Teague Sherman has been moved from strong-side linebacker to safety where he will back-up incumbent international starter Maurice Leggett. Though Leggett is the unquestioned starter at this spot, Sherman should be capable of starting in an emergency situation once he becomes comfortable in Richie Hall’s new defensive system.
As we can see, the Blue Bombers have no shortage of ratio options for the upcoming season. What has long been an area of weakness for the club is starting to become a strength, something that Bomber fans across the province are hoping could help propel the blue and gold into late November in 2015.