With first Bombers cuts made, a look at who could be next

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers announced the release of six international players Wednesday morning: wide receiver Kevin Cone; offensive lineman Aundrey Walker; defensive linemen Andrew Robinson and Nate Collins; and defensive backs Johnny Patrick and Donald Celiscar.

Cone and Collins each spent parts of the 2015 season with the blue and gold, while the remaining four players were CFL rookies. Patrick, an NFL veteran of 37 contests, missed both pre-season games due to injury.

With receiver Addison Richards (hand), centre Jeff Keeping (knee), and linebacker Kyle Knox (lower body) on the six-game injured list, the Bombers now have 65 players on their roster not including their eight 2016 draft picks and two non-counters (rookie linebacker John Rush and 2013 seventh rounder Billy Pavlopoulos). The club has until late Sunday night to declare its final roster of 46 players plus a ten-man practice squad.

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Hodge’s updated Blue Bomber depth chart

The first decision the Bombers have to make before then is at the third-string quarterback position. Dominique Davis and Bryan Bennett impressed throughout the preseason and, considering the number of CFL quarterback injuries that took place a year ago, keeping both would be optimal. Either Davis or Bennett would have to be willing to join the practice roster to make this possible, something that’s not always a guarantee given the meager earnings of CFL practice roster players.

The Bombers will then have to pare down their talent extensively across the board.

At receiver, Quincy McDuffie has the best chance of all international pass catchers (not including veterans Darvin Adams, Weston Dressler or Ryan Smith) at earning a roster spot due to his stellar work in the return game. Rookies Jace Davis, Thomas Mayo, Gerrard Sheppard, and Fred Williams have all shown flashes throughout training camp, but none have done enough to break away from the pack. Expect the Bombers to carry no more than five international receivers on their 46-man roster, with another one or two joining the practice squad. The club is also unlikely to carry more than three Canadian receivers this season, calling into question the futures of third-year man Kris Bastien and rookie Alex Vitt.

Carlos Anderson and Timothy Flanders may also find themselves out of luck on Sunday as, with a Canadian starter at tailback, the Bombers will likely be unable to dress an American ball carrier in 2016. Expect one of the two American running backs to earn a spot on the practice roster.

The starting Blue Bomber offensive line is expected to feature five returnees (L-R: Stanley Bryant, Jace Daniels, Matthias Goossen, Sukh Chungh, Patrick Neufeld), with 2016 second round selection Michael Couture serving as the sixth offensive lineman until Jeff Keeping returns from the six-game injured list. With fifth rounder Zachary Intzandt expected to return to school, the remaining three hogs — all internationals — will be fighting for a maximum of one spot on the 46-man roster and (likely) one spot on the practice roster. Jermarcus Hardrick brings CFL experience, while Travis Bond boasts the best size of the bunch and a set of quick feet.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bombers will have a number of tough decisions to make regarding its glut of national talent. No CFL team can keep six national defensive linemen, seven national linebackers, and four national defensive backs on their 46-man roster — as much as Mike O’Shea might like to.

Veteran Louie Richardson could be the odd man out at defensive end with Trent Corney coming aboard, while 2016 sixth round pick Rupert Butcher will likely begin his career on the practice roster. On the American side of the defensive line, look for Adrian Hubbard to begin the season at the starting left defensive end spot, with Emmanuel Dieke possibly landing on the practice roster due to his ability to play both tackle and end.

At linebacker, all four healthy Americans should make the squad, though a player may get bounced when Kyle Knox returns from the six-game injured list. As for the Canadians, Frank Renaud will likely return to Windsor to finish his CIS eligibility this season, while 2016 third rounder Shayne Gauthier — who missed the entire pre-season due to injury — is a prime candidate for the practice roster. By my count, the club will have a tough time keeping more than three Canadian linebackers on the 46-man roster.

Keeping all four national defensive backs on the 46-man roster could also prove difficult for a Bomber team that is expected to start five Americans in the secondary. Julian Posey and Kevin Fogg will likely stick around given the number of pre-season reps they received at boundary halfback, while 2016 third round pick Taylor Loffler could start the season on the practice roster.

Finally, the team’s specialists are a set in stone for this season with Justin Medlock handling all three kicking duties and Chad Rempel long snapping. Given that Medlock’s punting skills are somewhat inconsistent, I’d like to see Billy Pavlopoulos end up on the club’s practice roster if room can be found.

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Hodge’s 46-man Blue Bomber roster plus 10-man practice squad

The depth chart above is by no means a prediction, but a layout of the players I would most like to see stick around in blue and gold. Stay tuned for the real roster decisions to be announced on Monday morning.

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John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.