Five position battles to watch at Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ training camp

Photo: Michael Scraper/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Rookie camps across the CFL officially get underway on Wednesday, giving hundreds of newcomers the opportunity to make an impact with their new teams north of the border.

Some clubs have completely overhauled their rosters from a year ago, though this couldn’t be further from the truth in Winnipeg where a veteran-laden squad will look to qualify for a fourth-straight Grey Cup appearance.

There aren’t many starting spots up for grabs with the Blue Bombers this year, though below is a breakdown of five position battles that will take place. It’s inevitable that Winnipeg will have to move on from its veteran core at some point, though it’s tough to blame the club for getting the band back together when they’re coming off yet another smash hit record.

Training camp gets underway on Sunday, May 14 with practice at IG Field set for 9:00 a.m. local time. All sessions are open to the public.


Kenny Lawler is a lock to start after returning to Winnipeg on a two-year contract that made him the second-highest-paid receiver in the CFL. Dalton Schoen is back after leading the league in receiving yards as a rookie in 2022, while Canadians Nic Demski and Drew Wolitarsky should start to maintain the club’s ratio.

This leaves the fifth and final starting spot for Rasheed Bailey or Carlton Agudosi, both of whom should make a strong case for the gig. Bailey is an excellent downfield blocker who made a career-high 63 receptions for 729 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Agudosi played only two games in 2022 due to injury but proved to be a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive backs at six-foot-six and 220 pounds, catching two touchdown passes.

Others who should also compete for the starting job include Greg McCrae, who started seven games at slotback last season despite being listed as a running back, and Janarion Grant, though the club would probably be wise to let him focus on his duties as a returner. Canadian target Brendan O’Leary-Orange made 19 catches for 233 yards and one touchdown in 2022, while Tavaris Harrison and Jaivon Heiligh are both entering their second year with the team.

There’s always a chance that one of the club’s many new receivers pops off the page like Schoen did a year ago. The new Americans the club has signed include Manasseh Bailey, Gavin Garner, Otis Lanier, Tre Turner, and Michael Young Jr., while the Canadians include Bret MacDougall, Jeremy Murphy, and Michael O’Shea.


Chris Kolankowski started 14 games this past season while Michael Couture was out due to injury, though he returned to the bench come the playoffs. He also showed that he can play elsewhere along the line, starting in Geoff Gray’s usual spot at left guard in the club’s second-last regular season game while a number of veterans were rested.

The 31-year-old blocker’s main competition for the starting role should come from Tui Eli, who returned to Winnipeg on a three-year contract after sitting out the 2022 season. The former fourth-round pick spent his rookie year in 2019 getting into game shape and started four games at guard in 2021, though his primary position is centre.

Photo: David Mahussier/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Liam Dobson, the club’s first-round pick in 2021, should also get a look at centre, though his natural position is guard. He dressed for 16 games as a rookie last year and will have to compete to stay on the game-day roster depending on how many offensive linemen the Blue Bombers plan to dress in 2023.

Other depth Canadians who will compete along the interior of the offensive line include Cole Adamson, who has been converted from defensive tackle, Tyler Grisolia, and Brandon Sanford.

Defensive tackle

Casey Sayles became the fourth-highest-paid defensive tackle in the CFL after departing Winnipeg for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in free agency, leaving his starting spot beside Jake Thomas wide open. Ricky Walker should be the front-runner to replace him, having dressed for 19 games in a depth role over the past two seasons.

The 27-year-old has made 23 total tackles and two sacks with Winnipeg and has received praise for his high-energy style of play. He is also one of the only players I’ve ever seen wear a hat in an official team photo. Newcomer and former XFL defensive tackle O’Bryan Goodson should push him in training camp, though the starting spot appears to be Walker’s to lose.

Photo courtesy: Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Photo edit: 3DownNation.

As for Thomas, it’s clear the club is planning a succession plan for the 32-year-old’s eventual retirement. Cameron Lawson was acquired via trade from the Montreal Alouettes prior to last season, while Tanner Schmekel and Collin Kornelson were selected in the mid-rounds of last week’s CFL draft.

Defensive back

Winnipeg has enough proven starters to fill the secondary, though it remains unclear how they will be placed on the depth chart.

Winston Rose and Demerio Houston, who missed the final seven games of the regular season due to injury, should be pencilled in as the two starting cornerbacks. Deatrick Nichols is arguably the best boundary halfback in the CFL, while Jamal Parker excelled late in the year when he replaced an injured Nick Taylor, who has since signed with the Calgary Stampeders, at field-side halfback. Brandon Alexander is well entrenched as the starting safety, while Alden Darby should resume his starting role at strong-side linebacker.

Photo: David Mahussier/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

This leaves Desmond Lawrence without a starting spot, though he started at field-side cornerback during the club’s playoff run last season. Evan Holm should also compete for a first-string role in 2023, though he struggled at times over four starts at field-side halfback last year.

The new Americans who will compete at defensive back include Will Allen Jr., Jordan Brown, Matt Cole, Abu Daramy-Swaray, Karon Delince, and Deuce Wallace.

The club will also have a ton of Canadian defensive backs in training camp, though they are expected to fill depth roles and play on special teams. These players include Charles-Antoine Beaulieu, Nick Hallett, Jacob Janke, Jake Kelly, Redha Kramdi, Cedrick Lavigne, and Jordan Veltri. Noah Hallett won’t be ready for the start of training camp after suffering another season-ending knee injury last year.


Winnipeg’s kicking situation looked clear as mud before Sergio Castillo signed with the team mere hours following his release from the Edmonton Elks. The veteran placekicker will still have to earn the job, though he’s clearly the front-runner to handle kickoffs and field goals.

Marc Liegghio should enter training camp as the front-runner to win the punting job. He punted 91 times in 2022 for a net average of 36.5 yards, which ranked tied for sixth league-wide. If he’s able to focus solely on punting instead of also handling placekicking duties, it stands to reason that his net average should improve.

Photo courtesy: Jimmy Jeong/CFL

The challengers who have been brought into training camp include Devin Anctil, Chris MacLean, Marc Orozco, Karl Schmitz, and Chandler Staton.

Anctil, Orozco, and Staton are unlikely to win a job unless they also find a way to beat out Castillo. All three are American and it’s tough to see the club dressing two American specialists given constraints that would put on the ratio.

This leaves MacLean, a Canadian, along with Schmitz, a Global, as the two main competitors at punter. MacLean was named a first-team All-Canadian with the University of Calgary in 2022, while Schmitz is 36 and has been out of football for a number of years.

John Hodge is a CFL insider and draft analyst who has been covering the league since 2014.