The Bombers made their biggest splash of the 2015-2016 off-season two weeks ago when they introduced Paul LaPolice as their new offensive coordinator. Considering the scarcity of other qualified candidates and the CFL’s current moratorium on coaching movement, landing LaPolice when they did was quite a coup for the blue and gold. When provided with adequate talent, LaPolice’s offences have been successful in both Winnipeg (2002-2003) and Saskatchewan (2008-2009) and it’ll be interesting to see how LaPolice’s schemes have developed during his three years studying film for TSN.
One of the interesting tidbits to come from Mike O’Shea’s QandView last week was a comment about the team’s media policy. The Bombers do not currently allow their assistant coaches to talk to the media, a mandate that would muzzle the newly-signed LaPolice should it continue. Sadly, it appears the unpopular policy will go unchanged in 2016, with O’Shea commenting, “it’s the way it has to be.”
The other interesting piece of information from O’Shea’s video answers was in reference to free agency. O’Shea, echoing one of general manager Kyle Walters’ statements from his year-end media conference, said the team will be targeting defensive linemen and receivers come February 9. Some names to keep an eye on: Canadian defensive tackles Ted Laurent (Hamilton) and Cleyon Laing (Toronto), and receivers Bakari Grant (Hamilton) and Rob Bagg (Saskatchewan). Bagg, who carries national status, enjoyed his best season as a professional under LaPolice in 2009.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of Matthias Goossen’s contract extension. Goossen, the second overall pick of the 2014 CFL draft, emerged as the Bombers’ starting centre late this past season and appears primed to take over as the full-time starter in 2016. Goossen, still just 23, was set to become a free agent after next season. Canadian offensive linemen are the lifeblood of successful CFL teams — they must be developed, nurtured, kept happy, and paid fairly. In the instance of Goossen, the Bombers have done a nice job of taking these necessary steps. Matthias has made Winnipeg his off-season home and has repeatedly expressed his enjoyment of his time in the city. He will be in blue and gold through 2018.
The Bombers have brought back three familiar faces over the past two weeks. Right tackle Jace Daniels re-signed with the club through 2017 last Tuesday and, after breaking his ankle in August, will compete in training camp for his old starting spot. Receiver Jhomo Gordon, released in September, re-signed with the club on December 16. The 22-year-old Bethune-Cookman product had three receptions for fifteen yards in 2015 in place of an injured Darvin Adams. Finally, the Bombers also signed punter Billy Pavlopoulos. Pavlopoulos, a UBC product, was drafted by the Bombers in the seventh round of the 2013 CFL draft and, barring the re-signing of incumbent punter Lirim Hajrullahu, could be the front-runner to win the club’s punting job in next summer’s training camp.
I was disappointed to learn that Bomber offensive lineman Tommy Griffiths retired from football on December 10. Though I don’t begrudge Griffiths’ decision to leave the violent game of football — best of luck to him on whatever comes next — his departure leaves Winnipeg with virtually no Canadian depth along the offensive line. The Bombers now have just four national offensive linemen under contract, one of whom (Dominic Picard) is expected to be released prior to training camp. By contrast, Calgary’s roster boasts eight Canadian offensive linemen — nine if you include defensive tackle Quinn Smith who looked strong in spot duty at guard in 2015. Expect the Bombers to add an offensive linemen at the draft and look to free agency for one or two more depth options — Montreal’s Jake Piotrowski, Ottawa’s Matt Albright, Saskatchewan’s Corey Watman, Toronto’s Scott Mitchell, Edmonton’s Andrew Jones, and BC’s Matt Norman chiefly among them.
Kyle Walters made a nice acquisition on November 30 in the signing of Guelph linebacker John Rush. “Rush is like a free draft pick,” a CFL personnel man told Justin Dunk of Sportsnet, CFL.ca, and 3DownNation. With Graig Newman possibly not back next season, Rush will compete with Sam Hurl, Jesse Briggs, and Garrett Waggoner for reps at linebacker and on special teams.
The Bombers have also brought in two Americans from their neg list in linebacker Kyle Knox and defensive back Kevin Fogg. Knox (6’1, 220) spent parts of the 2012-2015 seasons with Seattle, Jacksonville, New Orleans, and Dallas of the NFL and is said to have excellent speed for his size. Fogg (5’10, 185), who recently had a cup of coffee with Pittsburgh, is expected to get the bulk of his reps returning kicks in 2016.
Finally, barring any major news from the Winnipeg Football Club, this will be my last post of 2015. I would like to wish all of my readers a safe and happy holiday season and a wonderful new year in 2016. Until then, all the best!
John Hodge, Blue Bomber Talk