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June 2, 2024

Upon Further Review | Preseason #2 + Cut-Down Day

Linebacker Michael Ayers in action Friday against Calgary -- photos by Cameron Bartlett

Canadian Football League roster cut-down day has become a fascinating study with fans and media alike sliding almost every transaction under the microscope searching for a deeper meaning.

It’s essentially seeking out the why, the how come and what were they thinking behind how a roster is pieced together which makes watching the process unfold so intriguing for outsiders.

So, in that vein, let’s begin by getting the details of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roster moves – announced Sunday morning – out there for further perusal.

Released by the club after Friday’s final preseason game were:

  • American receivers Sy Barnett, Ronnie Blackmon, Isaiah Coulter, Aron Cruickshank and Josh Vann. Blackmon, Cruickshank and Vann were also kick return candidates.
  • University of Manitoba receiver and sixth-round 2024 CFL Draft pick AK Gassama.
  • American defensive backs Russell Dandy, Demetries Ford, Bill Hackett, Isaiah Norman, Travon Fuller, Patrick Rogers and Juan Lua.
  • Quarterback Darren Grainger, who left Friday’s game with an injury.
  • American offensive linemen Chris Ivy and Chidi Okeke.
  • Canadian offensive linemen Ethan Kalra and Michael Vlahogiannis, selected in the fifth and seventh rounds in this year’s draft.
  • A trio of 2023 CFL Draft picks in defensive back Bret MacDougall, running back/receiver Jonathan Rosery and defensive tackle Collin Kornelson.
  • Two free agent Canadians in punter Dante Mastrogriuseppe and defensive back Nico McCarthy.
  • American linebackers Dylan Moses, Johnny Petrishen and Tre Thomas.
  • American defensive linemen Chauncey Rivers and Taylor Upshaw.
  • And American running back and return candidate Chris Smith.

Meanwhile, the club added the following players to their practice roster:

  • Three American offensive linemen in Larnell Coleman, Kendall Randolph and Micah Vanterpool.
  • Americans Tyrique McGhee and Michael Griffin, both defensive backs, linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel and receivers Josh Johnson and Keric Wheatfall.
  • Canadian defensive end Owen Hubert, selected in the eighth round in the 2024 CFL Draft.
  • Canadian receiver Jeremy Murphy, who dressed for two games last year.
  • And two Global linebackers in Lucky Ogbevoen and Fabian Weitz.
  • As well, long snapper Ian Leroux – drafted this year as a potential replacement for Mike Benson down the road – will be returning to Laval this fall and was put on the suspended list.

Myron Mitchell

A few things to bite into here…

-The biggest surprise release for most was likely Smith, considering he had a sensational 109-yard punt return TD Friday night and appeared to stand out among the candidates to replace Janarion Grant. Smith, however, was also nicked up in the win. Of the four players who returned kicks Friday – Smith, Cruickshank, Vann and receiver Myron Mitchell, only Mitchell remains on the roster. We’ll find out more about what the team’s plans might be on Monday at practice and with head coach Mike O’Shea’s media availability afterward.

-McGhee had been pencilled in opposite Tyrell Ford as one of the starting corners, but with him now on the practice roster it means someone else stood out more. Two new defensive backs made the team, FYI, in Terrell Bonds and Marquise Bridges.

-Celestin Haba and TyJuan Garbutt – both of whom were with the club last year and had solid training camps – are on the roster and pencilled in to replace Jackson Jeffcoat. The D-line also features three other new faces in defensive tackles Jamal Woods and Devin Adams and 2024 second-round CFL Draft pick (20th overall), Kyle Samson.

-Keeping three American O-linemen on the roster is a shrewd decision. Veteran Eric Lofton has been getting most of the work at right tackle, but the team does very much like Coleman and Randolph – both tackles – and Vanterpool, who has been primarily lining up at guard.

-The Blue Bombers 2024 CFL Draft class is well represented on a team already stacked with Canadian talent as Samson, mentioned above, as well as receiver Kevens Clercius (2nd round, 13th overall), running back/fullback Michael Chris-Ike (2nd round, 14th overall), offensive lineman Gabe Wallace (2nd round, 17th overall) are all on the active roster with Hubert on the practice roster. The only other 2024 Blue Bombers draft pick not mentioned is massive OL Giovanni Manu, who is with the Detroit Lions.

Worth noting: 2023 eight-round draft pick Max Charbonneau, a linebacker who returned to school last year after training camp, has made the team as did new receivers Ontaria Wilson and linebacker Michael Ayers.

Josh Johnson

-Grainger, the QB, was released on Sunday and did not finish the game on Friday due to an undisclosed injury. That essentially hands the third-string QB job to Terry Wilson.

Expect more clarity on the roster and potential depth chart beginning Monday and leading up to Thursday’s season opener against the Montreal Alouettes at Princess Auto Stadium.

And while Friday’s final preseason game recap also feels like it happened eons ago – our recap can be found here — here’s more on the fallout from that game in this week’s UPON FURTHER REVIEW

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH… the following Blue Bombers projected starters did not play a single snap in the preseason:

-Quarterback Zach Collaros

-Running back Brady Oliveira

-Right guard Pat Neufeld

-Receiver Dalton Schoen

-Receiver Nic Demski

-Safety Brandon Alexander

-Defensive back Deatrick Nichols

-Defensive back Evan Holm

-DT Jake Thomas

-LB Kyrie Wilson

-LB Adam Bighill (six-game injured list)

Again, so much of this was the coaching staff’s decision to have its star talent healthy and good to go by Thursday and who is on the field for practice Monday will be telling.

THREE NUMBERS FROM FRIDAY… that stood out after a second glance at the statistical package, which can be found here:

-Wilson was 10-of-17 for 70 yards with two interceptions. Over his two preseason appearances he completed 20 of 32 passes for 185 yards with one TD and two picks.

-The Blue Bombers had just seven first downs and 121 yards net offence against the Stamps – and 20 first downs for 358 yards net offence in both preseason games – but those totals mean zilch given all the regulars out of the lineup.

-Unofficially, the Blue Bombers saw 90 players dress over the two preseason games which, from this perch, is entirely the point of training camp. Those concerned about how much rust may have set in with the regulars will start to get answers Thursday against Montreal

AND FINALLY… if only fans could have seen the size-large grin on the face of defensive tackle Devin Adams late Friday night. Adams popped off the page in the game against Calgary, as did fellow new defensive tackle Jamal Woods.

We told you of Adams, a late arrival from tiny Peru State in Nebraska and the New England Patriots rookie camp last week in this story and long before he knew he has earned a roster spot he was still a bundle of energy in the locker room after his first CFL experience.

“It was fast, enjoyable, fun, hard – I could give you a whole bunch of adjectives, but the biggest one is ‘fun’,” he said. “It was more than a blessing to be out there. It was fun, electric, the fans were in tune.

“I just gave it my all and tried to make every play I could make within the scheme. I really tried to just enjoy the game.”