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November 29, 2018

Young Guns | 2018 recap & contract statuses

Chris Streveler (17)) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game against the Edmonton Eskimos at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB on Thursday, June 14, 2018. (Photo: Johany Jutras / CFL)

His body was sore and exhausted, and the loss in the Canadian Football League’s West Final was still so raw as to leave him physically and emotionally spent.

But the moment Marcus Sayles started discussing the 2018 season, the mood of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Most Outstanding Rookie completely changed as his eyes brightened and his face morphed into a size-large grin.

“I’m just happy to have been a part of this team,” said Sayles in a recent chat with bluebombers.com. “This was such a special group, our DBs (defensive backs) especially. We had a real good camaraderie and I’m going to cherish all the moments we had, even outside of the facility. I felt like I had a good season. I didn’t start off as well as I think I could have, but my teammates helped rise me up to the point where I was the rookie of the year for this team. I’m proud and humbled by that.

“And this offseason… it’s already too long,” he added with a grin. “I don’t like the offseason. I’m anxious to start again. Of course I’m going to need my rest and work on my mistakes and train, but I’m already excited to be back here and training with the next group of guys. I have a year of experience now and next year I really think the sky’s the limit for me and this defence.”

Every CFL team is facing a great deal of uncertainty as the attention turns from the completion of the 2018 season after last Sunday’s Grey Cup to a look ahead to 2019. The Bombers have a number of pending free agents and some needs to address with that many potential holes on the depth chart.

But the club does have two roster aces, so to speak: first, the quarterbacks – Matt Nichols, Chris Streveler and Bryan Bennett – are locked up contract-wise, which is a stark contrast to some of their rivals across the CFL.

And second, there is a solid crew of young prospects and potential stars also locked up for 2019 – Sayles, along with Streveler and defensive tackle Brandin Bryant, among them.

“I had such a good time this year,” said Bryant, who dressed for 12 games including playoffs, starting 11. “Learned a lot and definitely became a better player. The thing about football is that it moves fast and as soon as one season is over you are already looking forward to the next one. I’m sure like everyone else I’m already planning my offseason, when I’m going to work out, where and with who, so that I can come back an even better player next year.

“I think I had a lot of growth. There was a lot of good coaching and then I had the opportunity to get better. There were some good guys to learn from… Drake (Nevis) was a great guy to play next to and he taught me a lot. I felt I improved every game. Hopefully, the coaches agreed.”

A player’s growth isn’t always measured by a straight arrow. Streveler, for example, started the first three games for the Bombers after the injury to Matt Nichols and went 1-2 with some solid numbers. But the player who was running a short-yardage package at the end of the season was infinitely more in tune with the attack than the one who took the first snap from centre in the opener.

Ditto for Sayles and Bryant, neither of whom started on defence to open the season.

“June… wow, that feels like a long time ago, man,” said Streveler, who will spend his winter training in South Dakota while working for Sanford Health in their Sports Science Institute. “It’s a long season, the longest I’ve ever had in my life, by far. That’s one of the things you learn during the year: how to be consistent.

“I’m just really thankful to be a part of such a great organization. A lot of great teammates… great veteran guys, young guys. This has been such a great locker room to be a part of for someone like me in their first year. There are a lot of guys who have been doing this for a long time and have helped teach me how to be a professional and how to carry myself on a day-to-day basis. I’m thankful for all that.”


THE YOUNG CORE

A look at the Bombers players currently under 25, including their 2018 numbers and contract status for next season (*indicates Canadian)

Jovan Santos-Knox, LB

Age: 24
Games played/started: 18/18
2018 numbers: Second to Adam Bighill on the club with 100 defensive plays, including 82 tackles, six sacks and five tackles for a loss.
2019 contract status: Pending free agent.

Marcus Sayles, DB

Age: 24
Games played/started: 16/15
2018 numbers: Finished third on the team in defensive plays behind Bighill and Santos-Knox despite spending the first two games on the practice roster.
2019 contract status: Under contract through 2019.

Chris Streveler, QB

Age: 23
Games played/started: 18/4
2018 numbers: Completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 1,134 yards and 11 TDs against five interceptions; also rushed for 441 yards and another 10 scores.
2019 contract status: Under contract through 2019.

Brandin Bryant, DT

Age: 25
Games played/started: 10/9
2018 numbers: Replaced Cory Johnson as the starter about halfway through the season and finished with two sacks, 11 tackles and two pass knockdowns.
2019 contract status: Under contract through 2019.

Drew Wolitarsky*, WR

Age: 23
Games played/started: 18/18
2018 numbers: Finished second on the team in receiving yardage with 650 on 45 receptions, scoring five TDs.
2019 contract status: Under contract through 2019.

Nic Demski*, SB/KR

Age: 25
Games played/started: 17/17
2018 numbers: Third in receiving yardage with 554 on 59 receptions for three TDs; added 248 yards and another TD along the ground
2019 contract status: Pending free agent.

Brandon Alexander, DB

Age: 25
Games played/started: 14/14
2018 numbers: Did a little of everything for the Bombers with 36 tackles, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries and three interceptions. Was the club’s top rookie in 2017.
2019 contract status: Pending free agent.

Michael Couture*, OL

Age: 24
Games played/started: 18/2
2018 numbers: Was the sixth man along the offensive line; drafted 10th overall in 2016 and has not missed a game in three years.
2019 contract status: Pending free agent.

Rashaun Simonise*, WR

Age: 23
Games played/started: 18/0
2018 numbers: Caught four passes for 122 yards in his rookie campaign, including a 53-yarder.
2019 contract status: Under contract through 2020.

Daniel Petermann*, SB/WR

Age: 23
Games played/started: 18/1
2018 numbers: Finished with 10 catches for 154 yards and his first career TD.
2019 contract status: Under contract through 2019.

Charles Nelson, SB/KR

Age: 23
Games played/started: 1/1
2018 numbers: Caught three passes for 35 yards and flashed some return skills in limited duty.
2019 contract status: Under contract through 2019.

John Rush*, FB

Age: 25
Games played/started: 13/0
2018 numbers: Ability to play both LB and FB; finished season with one special teams tackle.
2019 contract status: Pending free agent.

Geoff Gray*, OL

Age: 24
Games played/started: 1/0
2018 numbers: N/A
2019 contract status: Under contract.

Abu Conteh*, DB

Age: 23
Games played/started: 12/0
2018 numbers: Had five special teams tackles in his 12 games played.
2019 contract status: Under contract through 2020.

Tyneil Cooper, DB

Age: 23
Games played/started: 5/3
2018 numbers: Had 13 tackles, most of them early in the year; spent last 11 weeks on practice roster.
2019 contract status: Pending free agent.

Chris Humes, DB

Age: 24
Games played/started: 1/1
2018 numbers: Started the regular season finale in Edmonton and was busy with eight tackles.
2019 contract status: Under contract though 2019.

Cody Speller*, OL

Age: 24
Games played/started: 2/0
2018 numbers: N/A
2019 contract status: Under contract through 2020.

Trent Corney*, DE

Age: 25
Games played/started: 3/0
2018 numbers: Played in just three games this year before having his season wiped out by injury.
2019 contract status: Pending free agent.

Frank Renaud*, LB

Age: 25
Games played/started: 5/0
2018 numbers: Another who had his season ended with injury early; picked up two special teams tackles in his five games.
2019 contract status: Pending free agent.

Johnny Augustine*, RB

Age: 25
Games played/started: 9/0
2018 numbers: Carried seven times for 51 yards and a TD.
2019 contract status: Pending free agent.

Patrick Choudja, DE

Age: 22
Games played/started: 0/0
2018 numbers: Practice roster addition late in the season.
2019 contract status: Pending free agent.

Jacob Firlotte*, LB/DB

Age: 22
Games played/started: 0/0
2018 numbers: Drafted 58th overall in 2018; had two stints on the PR.
2019 contract status: Pending free agent.

Kenny Lawler, WR

Age: 24
Games played/started: 0/0
2018 numbers: N/A; practice roster
2019 contract status: Pending free agent.