With Bomber rookie camp set to open on Wednesday followed by main camp on Sunday, let’s take a look at five key spots where competition is expected to be fierce.
Front-runner: Jace Daniels
Challengers: Jermarcus Hardrick, Travis Bond, Manase Foketi, Aundrey Walker, Lawrence Martin
With national veteran Patrick Neufeld appearing set to start at right tackle, the Bombers will look to an American player to fill its vacant position at left guard.
Daniels (6’4, 315) started six games at right tackle last season before breaking his leg in August. Daniels spent time at all three positions along the offensive line at Northern Michigan and played predominantly at guard during his season on Tampa Bay’s practice roster in 2013. Daniels is an above-average athlete who poses the tenacity and toughness the Bombers value in their players.
Hardrick (6’6, 320) appeared in 12 games with BC in 2014 and 8 games with Saskatchewan in 2015. He has experience at both guard and tackle at the CFL level and has a reputation for being a team-first player.
Bond (6’6, 330) was a seventh round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2013 after an impressive collegiate career at North Carolina that saw him start every game of his junior at senior seasons at right guard.
Foketi (6’6, 310) spent brief periods of time at guard with the Broncos (2013), Bills (2014), and Saints (2014) after going undrafted in the 2013 NFL draft.
Walker (6’6, 315) switched from tackle to guard during his senior season at USC where his NFL draft stock plummeted due, in part, to concerns about his passion for the game of football.
Martin (6’3, 315) started at left tackle for Merced College for two seasons before transferring to South Florida where he played predominantly at tight end.
Front-runner: Justin Veltung
Challengers: Kevin Cone, Julian Talley, Kris Adams, Thomas Mayo, Gerrard Sheppard, Jace Davis
The addition of Canadian stars Andrew Harris and Keith Shologan in free agency will allow the Bombers to start a fourth American in their receiving corps. Three of these spots are filled with former Roughriders Weston Dressler and Ryan Smith joining incumbent boundary wide receiver Darvin Adams in the starting line-up. The fourth, vacated by Julian Feoli-Gudino, is up for grabs.
Veltung (5’11, 185) started four games at slotback last season, recording 17 receptions for 189 yards and two touchdowns. Veltung’s downfall could be his lack of height — with Dressler and R. Smith at just 5’7, the Bombers may want to use this position to dress a receiver with better size.
Cone (6’2, 215) spent three seasons with Atlanta (2011-2013) before stops in Miami, Arizona, Tampa Bay, and Cleveland. He started one game for the Bombers last season at boundary wide receiver and failed to register a reception.
Talley (6’1, 192) became an Arena League star with the Pittsburgh Power in 2013, recording 74 receptions for 821 yards and 17 touchdowns. He joins the Bombers after a three-year stint with the New York Giants (2013-2015).
K. Adams (6’3, 195) played most recently with the Giants (2013-2014) with whom he recorded two receptions. Adams, like Ernest Smith, is already 28 years of age.
Mayo (6’2, 205) appeared in training camp with the Raiders (2012) and Jets (2013) before settling in with the Arena League’s Nebraska Danger. Mayo recorded a 41.5″ vertical leap and a 4.48 40-yard dash at a regional Atlanta combine in 2012.
Sheppard (6’2, 210) spent most of the 2013 season on the Baltimore Ravens’ practice roster. He has been out of football since receiving a brief look with the Green Bay Packers in 2014.
Davis (6’1, 205) spent brief periods of time with Houston and Baltimore after going undrafted in the 2014 NFL draft.
Front-runner: Justin Cole
Challengers: Shayon Green, Darrell Johnson, Sam Scott, Adrian Hubbard, Cam Henderson
Following the release of Greg Peach this off-season, the Bombers will look to find an impactful pass rusher to bookend the dominant Jamaal Westerman.
Cole (6’3, 240) recorded two sacks in five games with the Bombers last season. Possessing a tremendous burst off the line, Cole will have to become a more well-rounded defensive end in order to become an every down player.
Green (6’3, 260) is an ultra-athletic pass rusher who became a star defender during his senior season at Miami. Green missed most of his first three collegiate seasons due to two ACL tears, a torn meniscus, and a dislocated wrist.
Johnson (6’2, 255) appeared in eleven games with the Bombers in 2014, making four starts and recording one sack.
Scott (6’5, 245) has four years of CFL experience between Calgary (2011) and Hamilton (2013-2015). He has recorded 25 tackles and two career sacks.
Hubbard (6’6, 255) went undrafted in 2014 after a productive career at Alabama. Said to be somewhat self-inflated, it will be interesting to see if Hubbard makes the most of his CFL opportunity.
Henderson (6’4, 270) has spent time on both the Patriots’ and Browns’ practice rosters since going undrafted from the University of Central Florida.
Front-runner: Julian Posey
Challengers: Matt Bucknor, Vernon Kearney, Johnny Patrick, Jonte Green, Donald Celiscar, Jarrid Bryant
Benefiting again from its improved Canadian depth, the Bombers have the freedom to play an American at field-side cornerback should they choose to do so. Assuming Chris Randle takes over at Demond Washington’s vacated boundary halfback spot, this will be the only position in the secondary featuring an open competition in training camp.
Posey (5’11, 187) started the Bombers’ final game of the 2015 regular season at weak-side halfback, recording eight tackles and a pass deflection. Prior to joining the Bombers, Posey spent parts of the 2014 and 2015 seasons with Hamilton.
Bucknor (5’11, 185) has started every regular season game for the Bombers over the past two years. Though not a dominant cover man, Bucknor is one of the CFL’s best tackling defensive backs. As a national player, Bucknor retaining his starting spot at field-side cornerback would allow the Bombers to start eight Canadians.
Kearney (6’2, 185) spent most of the 2015 season on the Blue Bomber practice roster. He spent parts of the 2013 and 2014 seasons with the Bills, Raiders, and Browns.
Patrick (5’11, 190) was a third round selection of the New Orleans Saints in the 2011 NFL draft and saw action in 37 NFL games, starting five. Patrick recorded 68 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one interception, and one forced fumble down south.
J. Green (6’0, 184) was a sixth round selection of the Detroit Lions in 2012. Green appeared in 24 games with the club from 2012-2014, starting seven times and recording 38 tackles and one interception.
Celiscar (5’11, 195) spent time with the Indianapolis Colts last season after going undrafted in the 2015 NFL draft. Celiscar is said to play a physical, smothering style of coverage, an element of his game that may not translate well to the CFL given the new contact rules introduced in 2015.
Bryant (6’3, 215) was released by the Bombers after last season’s mini-camp in Florida. At 215 pounds, it is likely Bryant will predominantly receiving a look at strong-side linebacker.
Front-runner: Justin Veltung
Challengers: Carlos Anderson, Quincy McDuffie, Solomon Patton, Kevin Fogg, Weston Dressler, Ryan Smith
The Bombers are on the hunt to find a new return specialist following the off-season release of Troy Stoudermire.
Anderson (5’8, 180) was signed as a free agent after an impressive showing at the Bombers’ mini-camp in Florida last April. He appeared to have won the starting returner job last year before tearing his ACL late in the preseason.
McDuffie (5’10, 180) spent the past two seasons with Hamilton, primarily as a kick returner. He recorded one punt return touchdown with the Ti-Cats on July 31, 2014 against (ironically) the Bombers.
Patton (5’9, 177) became a star return specialist during his collegiate career at Florida. He spent the 2014 season with Tampa Bay, recording 416 kick return yards and 112 punt return yards as a Buccaneer. Patton has reportedly completed hand-timed 40-yard dashes in as few as 4.28 seconds.
Fogg (5’10, 185) dominated in the return game at Liberty and, while he ran just a 4.50 40-yard dash coming out of college, is said to have since increased his speed.
Dressler (5’7, 180) is a household name who has enjoyed a productive career as a CFL returner, but, given his importance to Winnipeg’s offensive attack, it would unwise to expect Dressler to also return kicks.
R. Smith (5’7, 175), who has often been compared to Dressler, would be best left out of the Bombers’ return game for the same reasons listed above.
Blue Bomber training camp opens Sunday, May 29.