It sure is starting to feel like football season, isn’t it? Well, slowly anyway.
I was driving to the stadium the other morning, and although I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, it felt like football season. I felt the familiar excitement, the anticipation for a new season. It’s been a while since our last game, so I’ll cover a few topics below as we head into March, the CFL Week in Regina, the upcoming minicamp in April, and the CFL Draft in May. And after that, we dive right into rookie camp and the season is right around the corner. Let’s go!
Was it different than in years past?
Sure, we didn’t experience quite the frenzy and chaos that we have in previous years, but that was also due to the fact we had signed two of our high priority free agents long before the free agent market officially opened in receiver Kenny Stafford and defensive end Tristan Okpalaugo.
Look, we’ve been after Stafford for two years now. Coach LaPolice liked him in free agency last season, but Kenny chose to head back to Montreal. You never fault a guy for making a decision, and we left things on a positive note with Kenny following his decision in February of 2016. A year later, his thinking changed and playing in Winnipeg was now his choice, something we were grateful for. Tristan was a bit of a different story, although we had our eyes on him for some time as well. We had begun talks with him shortly after the end of the season, and GM Kyle Walters had repeatedly said he was the defensive end we were after (though we did have backup plans to go another route should Tristan have decided to take one of the multiple other offers thrown his way). We had many people both inside and outside of the organization reach out to him, including retired Bomber Alex Suber, who played with Tristan in Toronto. Funny how the impact an organization and its people can leave on players, and how that can translate into a positive down the road.
After weeks of pursuit, late in the afternoon of February 9th, Tristan’s representatives called Kyle to inform him he wanted to be a Bomber. It doesn’t always work out like that, but it’s a great feeling when it does. We were thrilled to hear the news, and I could immediately tell Tristan was just as excited to be a Bomber. Both parties felt this was a great fit, and we can’t wait to welcome Tristan to Winnipeg.
Coach O’Shea and the staff
Coach is in the office almost daily, already entrenched in prep for the upcoming season. The travel schedule is done, and now he’s focused on planning out every single day for the entire football season, taking a calendar from May to the end of November and plugging in what the team will be doing each day of each week. He’s a pretty detailed guy so rarely does he deviate from his master schedule, and when he has to, it really grinds his gears. We are still in the works of naming an Offensive Line Coach, however I think it’s safe to say we won’t have any other coaching changes heading into this season. Coach Wylie was a great asset not only for our offensive line, but the entire roster, and he will be missed. I am confident, however, his replacement will step in nicely. Stay tuned on that.
Never have I worked with a GM and Head Coach who care less about who we play and when than with Kyle and Coach O’Shea. Of course our boss, Wade Miller, is heavily involved in the process of making the schedule, and he does his damnest to make it work for Bomber fans. But even he can only put in so many requests to the league to accommodate our fans. A Saturday Banjo Bowl, a Friday night home opener (July 7 vs Calgary – what a helluva night that is going to be) are a few of the big positives for us this season. Coach concerns himself with days between games and preparation, but who we play and when is of little concern. But I’ll tell you this – we’re all fired up for the opening of Mosaic Stadium on Canada Day.
The CFL Draft is set for Sunday, May 7th, and as I’m sure you are aware, we hold the first and sixth picks in the first round after acquiring the first overall pick in the trade with Toronto last fall. I’ve seen a lot of speculation out there assuming that we are automatically taking a defensive tackle or an offensive lineman. I can tell you that’s definitely not a certainty, especially after sitting down with Kyle yesterday.
“Do we need a defensive tackle? Absolutely. But we aren’t in the same position we used to be,” he said, referring to our absolute NEED to draft lineman in the past. Well, we’ve done that for three seasons now, and two of the three are into their second and third years as starters, while another is still being groomed nicely. “I definitely want to consider taking the best football player available,” he added. “We just haven’t been able to think that way until this season.”
And that really summarizes what we have been trying to do – get to a point were there is no longer an urgent need to fill a void. We’ll see how that plays out, but there is no question that we are set up nicely to add some solid Canadian football players to our organization come May.
As February wraps up and we head into March, the first ever CFL Week awaits in Regina. This will be a fan-fuelled week where 50 star players, coaches, GMs, and staff will convene in Regina for a variety of events, including the CFL Combine, which begins later in the week. GM Kyle Walters has a scheduled press conference in Regina on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the Combine and the Draft, and the team’s Twitter feed @wpg_bluebombers will carry that for you live.