They could be called the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ million-dollar men.
After free agency settled down, Bombers general manager Kyle Walters said the team was better on paper. As training camp ended last week, he noted the additions had already made a noticeable difference.
“There’s certainly a new attitude and there’s a different feel to it,” said Walters, whose team opens the regular season Friday hosting the Montreal Alouettes. “I think with the veteran guys we brought in, they just carry themselves differently.
“It’s a little bit different mentality around here. Feels different. Feels good.”
But Walters added it’s a waiting game to see how continuity is affected and whether the changes translate into more wins.
Victories have been hard to come by the past two seasons with Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea at the helm. Winnipeg went 5-13 last year and 7-11 in 2014.
In an effort to reverse the downward slide, Walters sought out some talented, pricey players, starting in late January with the signing of veteran receiver Weston Dressler after he was released by the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
On the first day of free agency, he signed Dressler’s former pass-catching teammate Ryan Smith, homegrown running back Andrew Harris (B.C.) and sure-footed import kicker Justin Medlock (Hamilton). Walters also added two defensive tackles, veteran Canadian Keith Shologan (Ottawa) and import Euclid Cummings (Toronto).
To make room for the newcomers, Winnipeg cut ties with former starters such as receivers Clarence Denmark and Nick Moore, defensive linemen Zach Anderson, Bryant Turner and Zach Anderson and kicker Lirim Hajrullahu.
“The fans can certainly trust and respect that we’re not sitting idly by and hoping that it’s going to fix itself,” Walters said. “We’re being aggressive and trying to address the problems.
“When we trot that group out against Montreal, 80 per cent will be different than it was two years ago so it’s a massive overhaul.”
There’s not much time to turn the tide if Walters and O’Shea want some job security. Walters’ contract expires next year while O’Shea is in the final year of his deal.
Those circumstances weren’t in the back of his mind while making his off-season decisions, Walters said.
“No, not at all,” he said. “Regardless of contract status, it’s we weren’t good enough last year, how do we fix it?”
The high-profile additions have so far met O’Shea’s expectations.
“They are who we thought they were so that’s a good thing when it all adds up like that,” O’Shea said. “Over the course of the first few games, our fans will recognize that these guys are the exciting players they were for other teams and they’ll be exciting for us, too.”
That’s definitely a goal for Harris, who was second in the league last season in rushing yards (1,039) and also had 53 catches for 484 yards in 18 games.
“I’ve said this before, but it’s more than just football to me now,” Harris said. “There’s a lot of pride that goes along with this and I want to do something special for this city and be part of something special with this team.”
Dressler was frustrated by a June 4 lower-body injury that kept him from practising or playing in the pre-season games. But the eight-year veteran said he prepared mentally and will be ready to suit up against the Alouettes.
“There’s definitely high expectations for this team right now because of the talent level we do have on paper,” Dressler said. “We’ve been working hard throughout camp to try and bring all those things together and mesh as a unit and as a team.”
Part of that involves another new piece to the Bombers’ puzzle _ learning new offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice’s playbook. The former Winnipeg head coach was hired after Marcel Bellefueille’s contract wasn’t renewed.
Starting quarterback Drew Willy gave the team’s off-season work the thumb’s up.
“I think it’s a commitment to the organization, the city, the players,” said Willy, who’s recovered from last August’s season-ending knee injury. “I think everybody wants to be great and it’s our job to execute the game-plan that we’re given by the coaches and work hard.”