May 13, 2019

Positional Preview | Defensive backs

Toronto Argonauts' Armanti Edwards can't catch a pass while being defend by Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Brandon Alexander, left, during second half CFL football action in Toronto on Saturday, July 21, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers open training camp on May 19th. This is the second in our annual positional-preview series leading up to the first day of camp…


No single Winnipeg Blue Bombers position group has had more fingers of guilt pointed at it from 2012-17 – and through parts of last season – than the aerial defence.

Every completed pass against over that span drew heaps of criticism for a crew that seemingly spent hours upon hours on trial. And regardless of what might have broken down up front, the men in the secondary were almost always found guilty as ‘explosion plays’ and ‘busts’ became part of the everyday vernacular around these parts.

It was also a major component in what we referred to last year in our defensive backs positional preview as the Bombers ‘infuriating paradox’: Namely, how could a unit that featured three Canadian Football League All-Stars in 2017 be the subjects of so much scorn?

Well, that narrative changed dramatically for the Bombers in 2018, particularly over the course of last two months of the season when the club’s defence transformed from a punching bag into a CFL force.

Winnipeg finished eighth, or second last, in passing yards allowed in 2017 at 321.6 per game, but shaved that number down to 267.4 last year to finish fifth. Last year the Bombers also had five games in which the defence surrendered under 300 yards of offence and five games of less than 200 yards passing.

There’s more: Winnipeg yielded just 19 passes of 30 yards or more last year – the dreaded explosion plays – which was the fewest in the CFL, while the QB efficiency rating of opposition pivots was 83.4, second to the Calgary Stampeders (79.9).

And yet…

As we get into the meat of our second positional preview leading up to the scheduled opening of main training camp on Sunday, the Bombers secondary is again under the microscope – this time for entirely different reasons.

The Bombers defensive backfield will have three changes this season after veteran corner Chris Randle was released (then signed by the Ottawa REDBLACKS) and with three-time all-star safety Taylor Loffler (Montreal Alouettes) and cornerback/halfback/punt returner Kevin Fogg (Toronto Argonauts) both having exited in free agency.

While the potential impact of those departures won’t be known until the 2019 season begins, a makeover in the secondary is hardly uncommon here in Winnipeg, or across the CFL. Consider this: over the last three seasons – all featuring playoff appearances – the Bombers have started 24 different players in their secondary, from all-stars like Loffler, Randle and T.J. Heath to the likes of Roc Carmichael, Macho Harris, Terrence Frederick, Julian Posey and C.J. Roberts.

Yes, change is the norm here and the Bombers have their fingers crossed that the return of halfbacks Brandon Alexander and Marcus Sayles – the club’s top rookie last year – will help provide the foundation for a unit that can be solid again in 2019.

Alexander has also morphed into one of the leaders of the Bombers defence and the coaching staff is comfortable that he can help fill the void in that department with Randle now in Ottawa.

The club did ink Winston Rose in free agency and he has the inside track on one cornerback position. Rose, just 25, started 18 games for the B.C. Lions last season and tied for the club lead with five interceptions. Chris Humes spent most of 2018 on the practice roster, but started the regular season finale and led the team with eight tackles. His experience with the defensive system has him tentatively pencilled in at another cornerback position, but both he and Rose will be pushed by a solid collection of candidates, many of whom flashed their skills at last month’s free agent camp in Florida.

The departure of Loffler impacts in two ways. The club doesn’t just lose a hard-hitting intimidator in the middle of the secondary, he was also one of the seven Canadian starters for the club over the last three years.

Bomber coaches have been touting Derek Jones for five years and he is expected to replace Loffler and his athleticism will give the defence a different look – and potentially different wrinkles – in that spot.

Still, that’s a whole pile of change to a unit that had finally steadied in 2018, especially in the latter half of the season. And it means that, once again, the Bombers secondary will be back swimming around on a petri dish under the microscope.


The Returnees:

Cornerbacks: Chris Humes
Halfbacks: Brandon Alexander, Marcus Sayles, Tyneil Cooper
Safeties: Derek Jones*, Jeff Hectht*, Abu Conteh*
Free agent additions: CB Winston Rose (B.C.); S Dexter Janke* (released by Calgary last year)
CFL newcomers: Christian Boutte, Malik Boynton, Amari Coleman, Joe Este, Mike Jones, Marcus Rios.
2019 CFL draft picks: Nick Hallet*, Kerfalla Emmanuel Exumé
CFL-LFA (Mexico) draft picks: Sergio Shiaffino Perez, Eduardo Manuel Hernandez Reyes
Departed: Chris Randle (Ott.); Kevin Fogg (Tor.); Taylor Loffler* (Mtl); Brendan Morgan* (unsigned).

*Indicates Canadian


CB Winston Rose

The Bombers are officially Rose’s third CFL team in three years: he broke into the league with Toronto late in 2016 and spent the rest of the year on their practice roster before joining Ottawa in 2017 and appearing in four games. He had his breakthrough season with the Lions last year, starting 17 contests and their playoff game, but was not re-signed by the new coaching staff.

That means that despite his solid numbers last year, including tying for the team lead with five interceptions, Rose still has some proving to do – especially now with a new squad..


CB Chris Humes

CFL training camps are short and experience matters, even if it is limited. That means Humes, who spent most of last year on the practice roster and stood out in his one start in the last game of the season, has a glorious opportunity to land a starting job for Week 1. He’s got good size at 6-0, 200, and showed flashes in practice last year of having the tools to become a shutdown corner. But that’s a teeny-tiny sample size.


Winnipeg’s interception total over the past five years – 20 last year, 25 in 2017, 30 in 2016, 21 in 2015 and 13 in 2014. That number is the most among CFL teams.