May 22, 2023

Quick Hits | Training Camp – Day 9

Notes and quotes from Day 9 of Blue Bombers training camp…

COMINGS/GOINGS: The Blue Bombers added one receiver and released another on Monday.

Coming aboard is Amare Jones (5-11, 195), who spent the last two years at Georgia Southern after beginning his college days at Tulane. Jones started six games last year, catching 35 passes for 483 yards and six touchdowns while also returning punts. He was named to the All-Sun Belt Conference First Team in 2021 and in 2019-20 he finished with 1,611 all-purpose yards, ranking seventh in program history.

Released was Tavaris Harrison, who dressed for five games last year in a reserve roll. Harrison hadn’t practised the last couple of days after picking up an injury.

As for Jones, he is being thrown to the wolves here quickly with camp already over a week old — close to two weeks old for rookies. Asked what he liked about him, head coach Mike O’Shea offered this:
“I don’t know yet. We see him as a returner. We have to see how quickly he can get up to speed. Today we throw him in there, Kevin Bourgoin (receivers coach) is standing with them and telling as he breaks the huddle what routes he’s got to run.

“Obviously, he’s quick. He’s got some speed and versatility and we can use him as a returner, but it was his first day on the field. Sometimes you have to temper that and see how quickly they can get up to speed. It’s probably easier to put him in as a returner than it is to put him in offence until we see how quickly he can learn.”

NOT UP FOR DISCUSSION: Darrell Davis, the hall of fame writer from Regina, is visiting Winnipeg and popped into to practice on Monday. He asked O’Shea after practice if the Blue Bombers quest for a fourth straight berth in the Grey Cup and a third championship is a topic tossed around during camp.

“Nothing like that gets talked about. Not with me. We don’t say it as coaches. We don’t talk about it in the room,” said O’Shea. “That’s a great question for the players as to what their mindset is. The hope is that we’ve moved well past that. That was supposed to be sorted out in the offseason.”

O’Shea offered a solid answer to the follow-up question asking if ‘revenge was a swear word.’

“Revenge on who? Teams are different,” he said. “The young guys that are new on our team right now, the young guys that are going to be on our team for Week 1 — whoever those guys are — they know nothing of that. So, I don’t know why we would saddle them with that. They’re here trying to figure out our game, figuring out how to make our team. And they need the clear focus from the vets to help them do that.”

INCHING CLOSER: The Blue Bombers will break up the routine of training camp this weekend in Edmonton with the first preseason game against the Elks. O’Shea talked Monday about the plan for playing time for the players who make that trip.

“Too early to talk about that,” he said. “We’re going to speak in the next couple of days about how we want to the roster to take shape in that first preseason game. In terms of the number of reps you want someone taking, it’s really interesting — you can go in with that sort of plan and then you don’t get the ball, or you only have it for a little bit or you score very quickly. We always have plans, and then the game starts and so I don’t know that a specific rep count is how we would look at it.”

As to how a player could maximize his opportunity in what is a short camp, he added:

“Cheat. It’s funny, but Orlondo Steinauer (Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach) and I have talked about this quite a bit… Brandon Alexander would be a good example. He just steals all the reps he can. Steinie was a guy who was not letting somebody take his reps either.

“Then as training camp goes along you have to keep making plays and if that taking some risks to make a play, sometimes you have to do that. You still have to let the coaches know you that you understand the system and are going to play within the system, but for a lot of guys you need to make plays. If you go the whole camp and you don’t make a play it would be hard to for somebody to say, ‘Yeah, I really noticed this guy. I really like what he does.’ It’s a tricky one, but you’ve got to put yourself in position to make those plays and then you’ve got to make them when they come your way.”

OLD SAYING: Long-time Blue Bombers coach Cal Murphy used to quip during training camp that a player ‘can’t make the club from the tub.’ Translation: a player injured for too long won’t make the squad if he’s not practising.

“It’s an old saying for a reason. It’s old,” said O’Shea when asked about it Monday with respect to the group of walking wounded. “The amount you look after your players has changed compared to whenever it was. There’s a reason there’s a CBA now because a long time ago if they thought you had a hangnail they’d get rid of you. It’s changed for a good reason. The health and safety and wellness of the players has got to be paramount.”

What then becomes a challenge is making sure players get a fair evaluation before the final roster cuts.

“There’s just so many variables that go into it,” O’Shea said. “I think we try to be very fair, it just doesn’t mean it’s equal for each guy depending on the (position) group they’re coming from and the number of players that are in that group and how we have to practice. You’d love for (camp) to be at a pace where you could really make sure you weren’t taxing the guys to the point where they get injured. You’d also love for everybody to come into camp in the kind of shape that they could handle volume, but that’s not the case — in either way.”

FYI: Former Blue Bombers DL Jonathan Kongbo, a member of the club in 2019 and 2021 before signing with the Denver Broncos, signed on the weekend with the B.C. Lions. O’Shea: “Happy for him. I wish he was still down south. We always want to see the guys we have a lot of history with do well.”

NEXT: The Blue Bombers practice Tuesday at IG Field from 8:30-11:30 a.m.