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April 22, 2019

Mini Camp Preview

Winnipeg Blue Bombers general manager Kyle Walters, head coach Mike O'Shea and assistant GM Ted Goveia during the CFL combine at the Varsity Stadium in Toronto, ON, Sunday, March 24, 2019. (Photo: Johany Jutras/CFL)

They’ve turned over every stone, studied hours of game film, and done the negotiating tango with agents.

And now the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will get an up-close-and-personal look at some of the top faces in their prospect pool. The club’s football brain trust will gather in Bradenton, Fla. for a play-in free agent camp on Tuesday, that event leading into the team’s mini camp at IMG Academy on Wednesday and Thursday.

“The ultimate goal is to make sure the best players come to Winnipeg for training camp,” Bombers GM Kyle Walters told bluebombers.com. “So, that means we’ll have approximately 40 players down there fighting for 20 contracts. There are a bunch of things that go into this, but at the end of it, that’s what we want: the best players possible in camp.”

Walters, the coaches, and the scouts won’t have much time following the camp’s conclusion to make their decisions as they’ll have to have their roster reduced to 75 players by April 30th.

The camp will be dominated by receivers and defensive backs – 17 of each, with four linebackers, three running backs and a pair of quarterbacks – former James Madison star Bryan Schor and Sean McGuire of Western Illinois – in attendance.

Bryan Schor

It’s no secret the Bombers were in full chase mode for a ‘name’ receiver in free agency, and the secondary will be undergoing a makeover with the departures of mainstays Chris Randle, Kevin Fogg and Taylor Loffler this winter.

But the high camp numbers at those two positions is as much coincidence as it is trying to find new faces as replacements.

“Every single year, regardless of need, your highest priority or your highest number of rookies to be signed for training camp are receivers and DBs,” Walters explained. “You look at the guys under contract coming back at receiver and there are six or seven of them (imports Darvin Adams, Corey Washington, Kenbrell Thompkins, Charles Nelson, Kenny Lawler, along with Canadians Drew Wolitarsky, Nic Demski, Rashaun Simonise and Daniel Petermann). So, you need 10 new receivers every year in training camp and probably want to look at 20 to get the best 10. It’s the same with the DBs.”

The Bombers made it a priority to re-sign veteran defensive back Brandon Alexander, who along with Marcus Sayles, Tyneil Cooper, Anthony Gaitor and Chandler Fenner means the club’s interior halfback and nickel/SAM linebacker spot should be covered.

The staff is big on Chris Humes, who emerged late last season as a corner candidate and also inked veteran Winston Rose – who has 22 games under his belt over the last two years with B.C. and Ottawa.

Winston Rose

“The general consensus around the CFL, and certainly here, is you can find a young DB or two to come in and play at a high quality,” said Walters. “We’re quite confident that’s going to happen.

“Receivers… we talk about this as an organization: the likelihood of a first-year receiver coming in and impacting has been shown across the league to be highly unlikely. You look at a guy like Derel Walker (now in Toronto), who is arguably the best receiver in the CFL, he had to grind out half a year on the practice roster. Bryan Burnham (B.C.) is another. These high-end receivers have had to grind out their time not in the limelight, for lack of a better term.

“We’ve got some young guys that we liked last year who spend some time on the practice roster or in some games that are coming back who we think have a chance to take that next step. That’s a difference for us this year: we think there’s a young group of guys who can step in to fill the void.”

It’s that thinking, indirectly, which explains why veteran Weston Dressler was not re-signed this offseason. Management wants to give its collection of receiving prospects a legit shot to make the club and contribute. That can be virtually impossible with a receiving corps stacked with vets.

The downside, of course, is living with the growing pains that can come with committing to a younger receiver.

“The reality of it is in a CFL training camp – particularly on the offensive side of the ball where it is so technical – a veteran player in a two-week training camp in any offence is going to know what he’s doing,” said Walters. “There’s going to be a comfort level with him and so it’s almost impossible for a young guy to come in and beat out a veteran guy in a short camp. So, if you’re going to go that route you have to give them a chance to win a job and you have to like their talent and then you have to give them the reps.

“But before we get to that we’ve got to identify which of our guys in Florida stand out and earn a spot in camp.”