The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have brought back most of the players who helped them capture the Grey Cup in 2019, but that doesn’t mean the team is without question marks heading into the 2021 season.
Former cornerback Winston Rose is now a member of the Cincinnati Bengals, while halfback Marcus Sayles signed with the B.C. Lions following a stint with the Minnesota Vikings. This leaves two big holes in Winnipeg’s secondary at arguably the unit’s two most important positions.
“That’s gonna be the big, big focal point throughout training camp,” general manager Kyle Walters told the media via videoconference. “Can Mike Jones slide into the boundary? Josh Johnson, who’s very versatile, can he move in there?”
Jones started all three of Winnipeg’s postseason games at field-side cornerback in 2019 and could flip to the boundary where he’d face a stiffer level of competition from opposing receivers. Johnson was brought over from Edmonton in free agency where he started games at boundary cornerback, boundary halfback, and field-side cornerback.
Walters also mentioned assistant general managers Ted Goveia and Danny McManus and the work they’ve done to uncover fresh talent at defensive back. Having rookies step into starting roles comes with risk, but it’s also an excellent way to save money against the salary cap.
“We do need to rely on some of the scouting. We scout for a reason and bring up a lot of young Americans and you’re going to have to count on some of those guys to win jobs, particularly in the secondary,” said Walters.
The veteran personnel man also acknowledged that his team has seen some turnover on special teams with veterans Justin Medlock and Chad Rempel no longer on the roster. The Bombers drafted kicker Marc Liegghio out of Western in the fifth round of the 2020 CFL Draft and signed Winnipeg native Mike Benson in free agency.
“Mike Benson’s a veteran guy that’s snapped in our league and I don’t foresee any issues there,” said Walters. “We drafted a young kid, Liegghio, for a reason. He’s a hard-working kid and excited. … You’ve seen some young kickers in our league come in and have success and we certainly believe that he’s got the ability to come in and have success in our league.”
Liegghio connected on 92-of-105 (87.6 percent) career field goal attempts with the Mustangs and holds the U Sports record for most field goals of all-time. He also averaged 41.5 yards on punts and 56.5 yards on kickoffs.
Walters confirmed that the team will be able to bring 100 players to training camp, which should provide plenty of opportunity for evaluation. He also said that clubs will have to dress a minimum of one global, though they could choose to dress two depending on how rosters are formulated.
This year marks the first time that the Blue Bombers will enter a CFL season as defending Grey Cup champions since 1991. Walters appreciates that the pressure is off somewhat — or at least that the media will stop reminding him of the team’s troubled recent history.
“I would say there’s less pressure internally this year and far more excitement. Before 2019 where particularly [Postmedia reporter Paul] Friesen would remind us that we hadn’t won a Grey Cup in so long. … It’s nice not to deal with that, Paul, to be honest with you,” said Walters with a chuckle.
“The pressure will come, I’m sure, once we start playing games, but as of now it’s just excitement.”