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May 10, 2024

Quick Hits | Rookie Camp — Day 3

Blue Bombers rookie camp wrapped up on Friday -- photos by Cameron Bartlett

Notes and quotes from the final day of Blue Bombers rookie camp on Friday…

Three down and now the real grind starts: Rookie camp can be a physical and mental overload for newcomers to the Blue Bombers and the Canadian Football League. It’s a survival of the fittest competition, no doubt. And now they get a bit of a breather before the real fun begins Sunday morning with all the veterans on board for Day 1 of main training camp.

“It was good. You’d like (rookie camp) to probably be longer,” said Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “You’d like them to be maybe spaced out a bit differently. These guys need a rest now. I don’t think our camp is tremendously difficult in that regard. But when you add in the volume of stuff they have to learn and the different game, possibly, for some of these guys and then there’s the brain power it takes and the energy you’ve got to spend thinking about all the differences.

Mike O’Shea on Day 3 of Rookie Camp

“If (the Americans) were just to go out there and play the game they know on the field they know and just compete for three days they’d probably be less tired. But when you throw in all the stuff they’ve got to learn… I mean, if I’ve got something new to learn I just want to go home and go to bed.”

Fresh perspective: Offensive tackle Larnell Coleman is in the same position as a lot of rookies at Blue Bombers camp — trying to soak up as much as possible to be ready when the veterans are on the field on Sunday. That said, when a guy has been with four organizations before coming to Winnipeg — he was a seventh-round draft choice of the Miami Dolphins in 2021 and has had looks from the Carolina Panthers, Houston Roughnecks and Baltimore Stallions — it can lead to a different take on the whole process.

“The first time you get cut, it’s almost like that feeling when you break up with your girlfriend,” said the 25-year-old product of Malden, Massachusetts. “It’s like, ‘Oh my goodness… what just happened?’ Some players start feeling bad about themselves sometimes.

“It hurts, but at the same time you build a resilience to it. You not making it doesn’t mean you’re a bad player because you wouldn’t be at the professional level if you weren’t good. There’s a lot of great players out there and unfortunately there’s just a limited number of spots. And so it’s about improving every day and there’s a lot of things to tune up on.”

Offensive tackle contender Larnel Coleman

Coleman is in the mix to possible replace Jermarcus Hardrick at tackle, but the Blue Bombers also have to think beyond 2024 and, eventually, life without future hall of fame left tackle Stanley Bryant. That’s not at all in Coleman’s mind right now — goal No. 1 is to just get ready for Sunday. Looking beyond that is dangerous territory.

“I keep at this because I like hitting people and I can legally get away with that in this game,” he said with a grin. “Honestly, it’s just that I love the game. There’s just something about being out here. You wake up in the morning and you can be like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got practice — I’ve got to get up.’ The way I look at it, it’s not just a chance to get better, it’s a game. It’s a kid’s game.”

Quotable: “Carefully. It’s very difficult. He’s been a very good player for us for a long time. But we’ve got a lot of good guys in camp, we just have to make sure we keep putting them in those positions so they can keep showing us what they can do.” — O’Shea when asked how the club replaces Hardrick.

Soaking it up: Don’t sleep on QB Terry Wilson stepping up when main camp begins. Zach Collaros and Chris Streveler are locks at 1-2 on the depth chart and while Eric Barriere has been getting a lot of publicity as a former Walter Payton Award winner as the top offensive player in NCAA Division I FCS and another QB product of Eastern Washington University — which has delivered Matt Nichols, Bo Levi Mitchell and Vernon Adams, Jr. to the CFL over the years — Wilson was noticeable during rookie camp due to his strong arm and comfort in the pocket.

QB Terry Wilson

“It’s been good. It’s been a lot of information, but that comes with the position that I play,” Wilson said Friday after rookie camp concluded. “I’ve been trying to pick Zach’s brain and Chris — they’ve been a big help for me and Eric. It’s definitely been fun to get out here on the field and throw the ball around and get to meet some of these guys and overall have some fun — that’s why we play the game.”

Asked what he’s learned from the Blue Bombers two veteran pivots, Wilson was quick to offer praise.

“Overall, it’s just being a pro,” he said. “You see how Zach sits in meetings — he orchestrates the meetings and he’s really specific about what he wants. It’s seeing things like that. It’s really like, ‘Wow, you’ve been in this league for a long time and it shows.’ A lot of guys have a lot of respect for him. One day, I want to be like that. That’s what that makes me feel like. It’s a huge plus to have Streveler helping us out also. He’s been here before so he knows what he’s talking about Those two guys are big help.”

Wilson bounced around a ton during his collegiate days, first committing to Nebraska, then switching to Oregon — where he was behind Justin Herbert — and on to Garden City Community College, Kentucky and then New Mexico.

“I’ve been all over the place,” Wilson said with a smile. “I learned a lot from the game, met a lot of good people and I’ve really grown throughout the years being able to pick people’s brains and coaches brains, learn from older guys. Yeah, man, I’ve been all over.”

Wilson has dual-threat skills, but said he prefers to sit in the pocket and deliver strikes to his playmakers. It took him a day to get used to the waggle and the wider field and deeper end zone — plus the CFL’s penchant for passing — has him excited as a league built for players who like to chuck it.

“It is, isn’t it?” he said. “I’ve got to get used to the end zone with the 20 yards. I’m pretty excited about that and to be able to throw the ball around.”

Standing out: O’Shea wouldn’t publicly provide names of some players who stood out in rookie camp — ‘too early’ — but among those who have popped out over the first three days from this perch are, in no particular order, receivers Kody Case, Myron Mitchell, Aron Cruickshank and Kevens Clercius, offensive tackle Chris Ivy, guard Gabe Wallace and linebacker Fabian Weitz.

Also, University of Manitoba receiver AK Gassama — the lightest guy in camp at 162 pounds — has had his moments, too.

U of M product and Blue Bombers draft pick AK Gassama

“He made a catch the other day that was unbelievable with the way he contorted his body and adjusted to the ball just before the sideline. It was a fantastic catch,” said O’Shea. “He hung onto to it after hitting the ground hard, too. Whatever he is (size and weight-wise)… he’s out there to make plays. I know he’s a good teammate. I know he’s a good dude. I know he’s smart and certainly taking this opportunity very seriously, and he should.”

FYI: O’Shea when asked further about the Chad Kelly suspension: “I said what I had to say. One of the things I said was we should be asking the women in this league — I don’t know that we should be commenting about how they feel.”… DE Chauncey Rivers, one of the candidates to replace Jackson Jeffcoat, arrived Friday and should be on the field Sunday… OL prospect Kendall Randolph, the former Alabama product and another tackle candidate, has yet to practice due to injury… Former Blue Bomber head coach Mike Kelly and Manny Matsakis, who was his offensive coordinator in 2009, are part of the USA Football coaching staff for the International Federation of American Football’s World Junior Championship, which will be held June 20-30 in Edmonton. Kelly is the head coach of the U20 National team, with Matsakis named as the OC.

Next: The Blue Bombers have medicals and testing on Saturday and are on the field for the first full day of training camp on Sunday, 9 a.m.-11:40 a.m. at Princess Auto Stadium. All practices are open to the public.