When you think of Winnipeg Blue Bombers football, you picture the offensive line.
The back-to-back Grey Cup champions’ rise to prominence has been led from the front, where a crew of nasty road-graders have staked their claim to the title of the league’s best. Their reputation began to build back when Matthias Goosen, Sukh Chungh and Travis Bond punished defenders in the trenches, but it has only blossomed since the trio’s departure.
Bookended by three-time Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman Stanley Bryant on the left side and Jermarcus “Yoshi” Hardrick on the right, the Bombers’ fearsome front five dominated last season with Patrick Neufeld, Michael Couture and Drew Desjarlais along the interior. But following Desjarlais’ signing with the New England Patriots, they enter 2022 with a vacancy to fill.
Last year’s sixth man Geoff Gray will likely get the first crack at joining the reloaded starting group, but in the eyes of many, the Bombers’ next offensive line legend arrived in training camp Saturday. Liam Dobson, the team’s first round selection in the 2021 CFL Draft, took his sweet time coming to Winnipeg but knows just how good the group he is attempting to join really is.
“Watching the team a lot last year and prior to COVID, you see a bunch of guys on that team, in that room that are phenomenal players, like Stanley and Yoshi,” Dobson told the media following his first practice. “I’m coming into a room that has a ton [of talent] and it’s not just those two guys. There are a ton of guys in that room that are phenomenal players and they’re nice guys.”
“They’re accepting. I came in yesterday and we’re already joking around, talking. It’s not like other teams where those guys are the guys. The entire offensive line room is part of the team and they’re a unit, everyone’s together.”
On paper, Dobson appears tailor-made to join the existing group. As a prospect, the six-foot-three, 330-pound dancing bear earned comparisons to Bombers’ legend Chris Walby, arguably the greatest offensive lineman in CFL history. Filling shoes that large is a big ask, but it’s not every day you find a powerful mauler explosive enough to dunk a basketball.
“I like to think I’m mean, athletic, nasty, a bunch of fun,” Dobson said, describing his game with a chuckle. “All the English people are going to be upset with me about using all the adjectives or descriptive words that I could possibly think of. I like to play kind of physical, nasty while being athletic at the same time.”
There is little question as to the newest Bomber’s on-field talent, with plenty of high-level success at both tackle and guard. Any concerns are directed at his desire to be in Winnipeg, after a circuitous journey to the pros that seemed desperate to avoid playing in the CFL.
Dobson returned to school following his selection by the Bombers in last year’s draft, transferring from the University of Maine in the FCS to FBS school Texas State in an attempt to raise his NFL draft stock. It didn’t work out but rather than return to Canada, the Ottawa native signed a two-year contract in the upstart USFL, viewing them as a more streamlined launchpad to the top league.
Dobson’s unusual decision sent shockwaves around the CFL, leading to speculation that the Bombers might never see their coveted first-round pick. Just a few months later, he’s arrived, falling back on the CFL after the USFL failed to successfully secure him a work visa.
While it wasn’t the original plan, Dobson indicated Saturday that he may have misjudged the timelines when it came to the new US spring league and is more than content to join the Bombers. While he admits that playing in the NFL remains his dream, his focus going forward will be to earn his way onto Winnipeg’s roster.
“Your parents always raise you to never give up on your dreams but my mindset is right now, I’m here,” he said. “I work here, win games here, play my role here and whatever happens in the future, happens in the future.”
Returning to Canadian rules will take some adjusting, but Dobson is not concerned. Already fitting in nicely to the Bombers’ offensive line room, he’s focused on learning from the best so he can join them in whatever role necessary.
“Whether that means playing right away, playing in a year, or playing partway through the season, I’ll just try to be the best player I can be as soon as I can be and help the team in whatever role I can,” Dobson stressed.