With one third of the season over, teams are now faced with a crucial time in the year when they need to make their aggressive moves to improve their team before it's too late. After six weeks of play, coaches and general managers have been able to observe what kind of team they are dealing with and have a better appreciation of the types of decisions that they need to make so that they can better position their team heading into Labour Day.
NFL training camps are all well underway and the first wave of able-bodied cuts are now becoming available. Making personnel changes is often the easiest and most appeasing solution to disgruntled fans. However, changing bodies does not always make your team better. Sometimes, tweaking what you have or adjusting the culture of your team is all that is needed to turn a season around.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers had a great opportunity building some positive momentum this past week. Unfortunately, they didn't seize the opportunity, falling 36-26 to the Montreal Alouettes. Once again, the Blue Bombers defence gave up over 30 points and over 500 yards on offence. Once again, their offence was unable to produce points through three quarters of the game. Once again, they head into another week where they are questioning themselves and are forced to deal with the frustration and uncertainty that comes with being 1-5.
PLENTY TO FIX
Winnipeg currently ranks near the bottom in most statistical categories, both offensively and defensively. So were do you start when you are trying to right a sinking ship? I believe the first thing that any organization needs to do is to build on the positives.
The offensive line was a huge concern heading into the season. Although it gave up three sacks, I felt that this group played pretty well against the Als. The Bombers O-line is huge, averaging 6-foot-6 and 307 pounds. Continued improvement with this group will go a long way to building confidence in a young quarterback and in utilizing the talents of running back Chad Simpson.
Simpson is a stud. I would suggest that he is the Bombers' No. 1 offensive threat. It was simply amazing how he broke six tackles and rumbled for 33 yards on the final play of the third quarter. I would suggest that head coach Paul LaPolice and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton revolve their offensive attack around Simpson and have a strategy of a solid rushing attack which will enable them to control the clock and win some low-scoring games.
The problem with that is their defence is giving up an average of almost 33 points per game.
Who will step up and be THE GUY?
I understand that the Bombers are operating with an inexperienced quarterback. But no one has yet to step up to be a No. 1 receiver for Alex Brink to count on in second and medium or long situations. Yes, wide receiver Chris Matthews has been a pleasant addition. But he does not have the skill set to be the intermediate-route runner needed to make the tough six- to 10-yard catch to move the chains. Coming into the season, slotback Terrence Edwards was supposed to be the guy. But for some reason, he has uncharacteristically dropped balls in key moments on drives. Yes, he did have a big game last week, catching eight passes for 120 receiving yards. But there were still several plays through the first three quarters that he needed to make and did not. If Edwards is to be the No. 1 guy, then who is stepping up to give support at No. 2? Clarence Denmark currently sits 24th among CFL receivers this season and trails four running backs in receiving productivity.
MISSING IN ACTION
What has been most disheartening for me watching the Bombers this saeson has been the unexpected poor play of their defence. It is allowing 400-plus yards every game. This past week against the Als, it gave up 501 yards. Yes, the Bombers have a few key injuries. But this defence is not even close to the shutdown squad that we were entertained by last season.
Again, the positives: It was nice to see linebacker Marcellus Bowman back. He brought a nastiness onto the field that is needed for a defence to have success. It has also been nice to see Demond Washington get some time in the secondary, were he has proven that he can cover as well as he can return the football.
I believe that GMs make the mistake to believe that players are valuable simply because they show well on paper. If you can run fast, jump high and bench press the world, you must be a good football player, right? Wrong. The best players that I have been around were the defensive players who understood where the ball was going to be thrown before the ball was released by the quarterback. They were the offensive player who consistently understood what coverage the defence was playing and quickly adjusted their route correctly to make the easy completion.
There were several comments this week about the inexperience of the Bombers. However, I feel that Winnipeg faces an issue that goes far deeper than simply having a young team. I would suggest that a more accurate description of what they are dealing with came from a comment that was made this week by Bombers GM Joe Mack. When questioned about the team's performance, Mack responded by saying that he questioned the players' professionalism. What this means is that he believes that players are not doing all that is required to succeed each week.
The reason why we are seeing breakdowns in the secondary, untimely penalties, poor tackling, undiciplined play from defensive ends (over and over again), dropped balls and special-teams blunders is because the Bombers are not mentally prepared to succeed.
There is a generation of players who have all the physical tools in the world yet no interest whatsoever in putting in the time through the week to do the extra work. There is a generation of players who will do the bare minimum of work and then expect to flip the switch come game time. Veteran players perform year after year because they spend the extra time to prepare themselves mentally. Quarterback Anthony Calvillo arrives at the Als practice facility by 5:30 a.m. every day through the week in order to break down the upcoming opponent and start to piece together his game plan.
It is because of that type of game preparation that Calvillo can make the kind of play that you saw when he deliberately altered a rushing play and turned it into a 70-yard pass completion to receiver Eric Deslauriers. Calvillo executes week after week because he is mentally prepared to succeed.
One of the reasons I retired was because I was sick and tired of going into games with teammates who thought the work week was a joke. I remember a week during my last season with the Calgary Stampeders, when a group of players decided it was appropriate to have a snowball fight during a November practice. This was not an innocent, playful toss of snow between players on the sideline. No, this was players on the sideline having a full-on snowball fight with players who were active in practice, with players on the field. I simply shook my head. I realized at that moment that they couldn't care less that we had a losing record and would miss the playoffs that year. I retired at the end of that season.
When Mack mentioned a lack of professionalism, I immediately got flashbacks to my last season in the CFL.
Players can be inexperienced yet still mature. For you to have a strong football team, it is crucial for teams to find players who have the right character that builds strength into your football team.
I would suggest that not only are the Bombers inexperienced, they are probably a group of players who are simply putting in time, collecting a paycheque and thinking that they can just flick the switch come game time. I would suggest that it is time for Mack to send a few of these players packing in order to send a message that they should expect more in order for the team to see more.
Do you have improvements to suggest for this page?