The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will begin defence of their back-to-back Grey Cup titles in less than a week with familiar faces in familiar places and a smattering of newcomers.
And if that scenario rings a bell, it should, as the champs will once again field a roster loaded with veteran talent across the depth chart. Consider this; the roster includes nine players who were Canadian Football League All-Stars last year in quarterback Zach Collaros, offensive linemen Stanley Bryant, Pat Neufeld and Jermarcus Hardrick, defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Willie Jefferson, linebacker Adam Bighill and defensive backs Brandon Alexander (currently injured) and Deatrick Nichols. Two other players – slotback Nic Demski and fullback/ace special teamer Mike Miller – were named Western Division All-Stars.
Before we get to an examination of the roster, the Blue Bombers did continue with the next round of roster shaping on Saturday, announcing the following moves prior to the 9 p.m. cutdown.
Released outright were 18 players, including the following Canadians: DL Alfred Green, Rossini Sandjong and Cole Adamson (returning to the University of Manitoba), defensive backs Simon Chaves and Chris Ciguineau, offensive lineman Ben Koczwara, running back Kyle Borsa, fullback Antonio Valvano and linebacker Eric Mezzalira.
American players let go were offensive linemen Jalen Burks, Patrick Allen and Dennis Bardwell, receivers TJ Simmons, Blake Jackson, Lucky Jackson and Antonio Nunn, defensive tackle Kenny Randall and defensive back Jermaine Ponder.
Moved to the practice roster were the following Canadians: fullback Konner Burtenshaw and defensive backs Patrice Rene and Cedrick Lavigne. Americans added to the PR were kicker Ali Mourtada, defensive backs Jamal Parker and Evan Holm, receiver Tavaris Harrison, offensive linemen Cameron Durley and Eric Lofton, running back Greg McCrae and two Global players in offensive lineman Tomoya Machino and defensive back Souleymane Karamoko.
Meanwhile, Global punter Tom Hackett and receive Carlton Agudosi, who was injured in camp, were added to the suspended list.
The club’s indicated its injury lists will be announced on Thursday, but expect Alexander and Noah Hallett along with tackle Drew Richmond – all recovering from offseason surgery – to be on accounted for there, and the team still hasn’t made a roster decision on dime back Mercy Maston, who suffered an Achilles injury in camp.
A further look at the roster, as it stands now, less than a week before the season opener this Friday at IG Field against the Ottawa RedBlacks:
QB: Zach Collaros, Dru Brown
RB: Brady Oliveira*, Johnny Augustine*
FB: Mike Miller*
WR: Nic Demski*, Rasheed Bailey, Drew Wolitarsky*, Kelvin McKnight, Janarion Grant, Brendan O’Leary-Orange*
OL: Stanley Bryant, Geoff Gray*, Michael Couture*, Pat Neufeld*, Jermarcus Hardrick, Chris Kolankowski*, Drew Richmond (inj)
DL: Jackson Jeffcoat, Willie Jefferson, Jake Thomas*, Casey Sayles, Ricky Walker
LB: Adam Bighill, Kyrie Wilson, Shayne Gauthier*, Tanner Cadwallader*, Jesse Briggs*, Les Maruo (Global)
DB: Nick Taylor, Deatrick Nichols, Brandon Alexander (inj), Winston Rose, Nick Hallett*, Noah Hallett* (inj), Demerio Houston, Redha Kramdi*, Mercy Maston (inj)
LS: Mike Benson*
K: Marc Liegghio*
WR: Greg Ellingson, Dalton Schoen
OL: Liam Dobson*
QB: Dakota Prukop
DL: Cam Lawson*, L.B. Mack III, Cedric Wilcots II
LB: Malik Clements
DB: Tyquwan Glass, Tyrell Ford*, Malcolm Thompson*, Donald Rutledge, Jr.
WHAT SOME OF THIS MEANS
- The signing of Ellingson and the emergence of Schoen in camp gives the Blue Bombers receiving corps a veteran piece and a promising newcomer as replacements to Kenny Lawler (Edmonton) and Darvin Adams (Ottawa), who left in free agency.
- Moving Mourtada to the practice roster could mean Liegghio opens the season handling all three kicking chores – place kicking, punting and kickoffs.
- The team’s top picks in the last two drafts – Dobson (third overall in 2021) and Ford (13th overall in 2022) – both made the team.
- Prukop (Edmonton), Clements (Edmonton), Glass (Montreal), Lawson (Montreal), Thompson (Hamilton) – along with Ellingson – are all new additions with previous CFL experience.
- Rutledge, Jr., who had been getting a lot of work at the dime back spot even before Maston’s injury, is the leading candidate to take over that vacant starter spot – held by Alden Darby (now in Hamilton) last year.
- There are 15 players drafted by the Blue Bombers on the roster with another three of their picks on the practice squad.
The Blue Bombers also announced the following players have changed their jersey numbers:
#0 Malik Clements
#18 Ali Mourtada
#26 Cedrick Lavigne
#29 Greg McCrae
#32 Konner Burtenshaw
#39 Patrice Rene
#55 Eric Lofton
#57 Cameron Durley
#81 Tavaris Harrison