A scene from the first day of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers work week which everyone in Bomberland hopes to see repeat itself, oh, roughly a gazillion times this season…
There was Greg Ellingson running another crisp and tidy route before latching onto a Zach Collaros pass for a massive chunk of yardage. It was just one moment, but it already looked so smooth and so natural – an absolutely perfect fit, if you will – from the club’s biggest free agent addition this winter.
“I’m loving it here,” said the veteran receiver after practice on Monday. “The quality of the guys here, the coaching staff and the culture that was already set here was something you see from a distance and respect, but you don’t really grasp it until you’re in it. Now that I’m in it, you see the brotherhood and that culture and it’s so good to be a part of it.
“It’s something I’ve been missing that I haven’t really felt that since I was back in Ottawa when we had success with that group there. This is a tight-knit group here and I’m looking to fit in, however that may be, and hopefully as the season goes along they start to respect me even more and we build that family feel even more as we go through games.”
‘Fitting in’ shouldn’t be a problem for Ellingson, a five-time 1,000-yard receiver who spent the last two years in Edmonton. The Blue Bombers receiving corps is now without Kenny Lawler and Darvin Adams, both of whom left in free agency, and Ellingson and CFL rookie Dalton Schoen will be asked to fill those vacancies alongside Nic Demski, Rasheed Bailey and Drew Wolitarsky.
The Blue Bombers have chased Ellingson before in free agency, but this time he felt right in making his decision to sign in Winnipeg.
“I knew back in free agency this was the place I was going to go,” he said. “I had talked to them in previous years, but this year I just knew because of the energy they gave me and how they made sure they communicated with me.
“Now I’m just excited to see what happens this year. There are some guys that I played with before that I talk to and hear what it’s like. But what impressed me was how these guys just always battled through games. Witnessing it from a distance or playing against this team, no matter what happened or whatever adversity they had, they always fought back and managed to win big games or come back and win tight games. That’s a testament to the trust they’ve built here. I’m just looking to add to that in whatever way I can.”
One of the players Ellingson has played with before is quarterback Zach Collaros, with them last being teammates in 2014 with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. And eight years later Ellingson has seen some obvious growth in the Blue Bombers QB – a CFL all-star and the league’s Most Outstanding Player in 2021.
“He’s definitely grown a lot,” Ellingson said. “Again, you can see it from a distance, but until you actually get to play with him again and see how he’s throwing the ball and scrambling out of the pocket and making those cross-body throws on target and the velocity he has… he’s improved since I last played with him and that’s exciting.
“He’s always had that swagger. It’s good that he’s got his confidence back and it’s fun to play with a quarterback that has that ‘juice.’”
Ellingson’s experience – and his size – could be a boon for the Blue Bombers offence and, in particular, the receiving corps. In that respect, he reminds head coach Mike O’Shea of another free agent addition who gave so much to the club upon his arrival – Weston Dressler.
Dressler’s name came up on Monday when O’Shea was asked what popped out about Ellingson when getting the chance to work with him and see him up close and personal instead of watching him on another team from afar.
“He’s big. That’s one of the things,” O’Shea said. “Until you stand beside him… I remember standing beside him and Brad Sinopoli years ago (when he and Ellingson were teammates in Ottawa) and going, ‘Look at these two guys.’ Then you forget and then he comes into the building and you go ‘Yup, that’s right. He’s big. Really big.’ Other than that, one of the things I’ve really enjoyed so far is just talking the game with him. He reminds me of Weston.”