Here’s a number to munch on as we open our next Winnipeg Blue Bombers positional-preview series, with this chapter focussing the spotlight on the secondary…
The Blue Bombers air defence surrendered a measly 216.4 yards passing per game in 2021. And just to put how measly that is into perspective, consider this: that’s the lowest total by a Bombers defence in whopping 43 years, dating all the way back to 1977 when the club surrendered 187.9 yards passing per game.
Numbers like that obviously mean everyone on defence deserves a salute. But, if you recall, the Blue Bombers opened training camp last year with the secondary under a microscope following the departures of Winston Rose and Marcus Sayles and with the magnification only cranked up further following a season-ending Achilles injury to Mercy Maston just days into the practice sessions.
Yet, ‘The Dark Side’ defence was as stingy as unit we’ve seen in decades in these parts in allowing just 12.9 points per game and just 15 touchdowns all season. Ranking third against the run and first versus the pass, Winnipeg’s defence was an absolute force from the opening kickoff to the Grey Cup.
Fitting, too, that the 2021 championship was sealed by a defensive play, with Deatrick Nichols tipping a pass to Rose, who then scooped it up to linebacker Kyrie Wilson for a walk-off interception in overtime.
Now, there will be change again in the secondary in 2022 – no position group undergoes more turnover than the defensive back group from year to year – but there is hardly panic in Bomberland.
Over the last few years this has become a truism in these parts: the Blue Bombers the personnel and scouting staff led by Danny McManus and Ted Goveia find quality defensive-back talent, and then defensive coordinator Richie Hall and Jordan Younger get them ready for prime-time ASAP.
Nichols and DeAundre Alford, now with the Atlanta Falcons, are prime examples of that. They emerged from a long list of defensive-back candidates in camp last year to lock down starting jobs, and by season’s end both were CFL All-Stars.
Alford’s departure to the Falcons leaves a vacancy at one cornerback spot, while Maston’s return from injury should counter the departure of all-star Alden Darby – acquired from Toronto last year after Maston went down – to Hamilton via free agency.
The club will also have to make do without all-star safety Brandon Alexander for a spell to start the year as he recovers from offseason surgery and the club has options to fill that temporary void, both American and Canadian.
Tyquwan Glass was brought aboard in free agency from Montreal and could be a candidate there or at any spot in the secondary, as are Demerio Houston and Josh Miller, both of whom earned work last year in their first taste of CFL action. Returning Canadian vets Nick and Noah Hallett and Redha Kramdi provide homegrown depth, while the team went heavy on drafting defensive backs last week, selecting Tyrell Ford with its first pick and adding Chris Ciguineau and Cedrick Lavigne later and plucking Laval product Souleymane Karamoko in the Global Draft. Also in the mix is 2021 draft choice Patrice Rene, who played his college ball at North Carolina and Rutgers and former Tiger-Cat Malcolm Thompson.
That’s a pile of names spit out here in just a few paragraphs. Still, as the recent track record would indicate, somewhere in that group is another potentially dominant secondary.
TRAINING CAMP 2022 PREVIEW: A LOOK AT THE DEFENSIVE BACKS
Starters: Safety Brandon Alexander, halfbacks Deatrick Nichols and Nick Taylor, cornerback Winston Rose
Also: Mercy Maston (dime), Nick Hallett*, Noah Hallett*, Demerio Houston, Redha Kramdi*, Josh Miller
Free-agent additions: CB/HB Tyquwan Glass (Montreal); Malcolm Thompson* (Hamilton)
Departed: CB DeAundre Alford (Atlanta), Dime Alden Darby (Hamilton), Mike Jones (Montreal), Josh Johnson, Sergio Schiaffino-Perez, David Rivers
CFL 2021/22 Draft picks: Patrice Rene* (3rd round, 21st overall, 2021); Tyrell Ford* (2nd round, 13th overall, 2022), Chris Ciguineau (5th round, 47th overall, 2022), Cedrick Lavigne (7th round, 65th overall), Souleymane Karamoko (Global Draft, 2nd round, 13thoverall)
CFL newcomers: Marlon Character, Marwin Evans, Mike Hampton, Zach Hannibal, Tyrique McGhee, Donovan Olumba, Jermaine Ponder, Donald Rutledge, Jr., Corey Straughter,
*Indicates Canadian; (G) – Global player
IMPACT NEWCOMER(S): CB/HB TYQUWAN GLASS
Glass signed with the Blue Bombers after being limited to seven games last season in Montreal and admittedly seeking a change of scenery.
He was an emerging talent with Edmonton in 2019, having intercepted three passes in 14 games and showing a versatility to play multiple positions in the secondary.
X FACTOR: DIME MERCY MASTON
Maston was an under-rated contributor in the Blue Bombers run to the Grey Cup in 2019. He brought a physical presence to the dime position in the secondary and proved to be solid versus both the pass and the run. If he can return to form from the Achilles injury he suffered last year in training camp that would be a huge win for the defence.
NOTABLE NUMBER: 149
Winnipeg’s interception total over the past six years – 16 last year, 24 in 2019, 20 in 2018, 25 in 2017, 30 in 2016, 21 in 2015 and 13 in 2014. That number is the most among CFL teams.