Winnipeg Blue Bombers ready as CFL season nears
It's almost the dawn of a new CFL season, and once again the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are looking on the bright side after a pretty gloomy 2012.
For one thing, they finally have a field to play on that won't draw jeers, a new one that was supposed to open last year.
"It's something that the club, the city and the CFL should be very proud of," general manager Joe Mack said Thursday of Investors Group Field.
The team even scheduled it's first four games on the road in 2012 to accommodate a promised late opening, but the pain brought no gain as construction delays ate up all hope.
After a snowy spring, Investors may be short a little landscaping perhaps, but Bomber president Garth Buchko said it would definitely be ready June 12 for the first exhibition game.
"Everything from a fan perspective will be virtually 100 per cent complete," he said, adding that they are nearing a new season ticket record of 24,000.
Quarterback Buck Pierce said the players are also blessed with up-to-date-training facilities and other perks at the 33,500-seat stadium, located on the grounds of the University of Manitoba.
"At the old place we maybe had one fridge, a microwave and a coffee pot that worked half the time," he said.
"Here we have everything that we need."
Coach Tim Burke said except for a couple of holes on defence, the team is also in much better shape than it was for much of last season, particularly on offence.
The Bombers stumbled out of the gate and finished a disappointing 6-12-0 and missed the playoffs, after making a Grey Cup appearance in 2011. It cost coach Paul LaPolice his job mid-season.
Offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton now has a year of CFL football under his belt and Burke says that should lead to more production.
"I think we're in much better shape as a team than where we were when I took over as interim coach," said Burke.
During the off-season, the Bombers lost defensive end Jason Vega to the NFL and linebacker Marcellus Bowman to the Hamiton Tiger-Cats, who weren't put off by his knee surgery.
"Other than that, I feel pretty good defensively as far as the guys coming back," said Burke.
He feels Cauchy Muamba is an upgrade at free safety and can't say too many good things about his brother, linebacker Henoc Muamba.
Mack added that he would be saying a rosary every day to try and keep the team healthy.
"I think if we can stay healthy we have a chance to be pretty competitive."
Injuries played a major factor in the team's woes in 2012, not the least the concussion and other ailments that sidelined Pierce.
Pierce is back as starter, with returning backup Justin Goltz and two new understudies, Max Hall and Chase Clement.
The Bombers did bring in another punter Thursday, Australian Tim Hutchison, making it four as camp nears, including Bomber veteran Mike Renaud.
"Competition is always a good thing, it brings out the best in everybody, and I think from there we'll get more consistency in our punting game," said Burke.
The Bombers tried out another kicker/punter last season but decided to stick with their duo of Renaud and Justin Palardy.
One of the newcomers this season trying to unseat Renaud is Brett Cameron, the son of Bomber hall-of-famer and current board member Bob Cameron.