THE CANADIAN PRESS
WINNIPEG -- With a new crop of receivers and running backs, Buck Pierce and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are hoping to see some much-needed scoring punch this season.
The 2011 Bombers defence had a right to crow - and certainly did - but on offence they were sometimes lacking.
They had enough in the tank to win the CFL East but were overmatched in the Grey Cup and suffered a humbling 34-23 loss to the B.C. Lions last November.
» By the Numbers - Bombers Offensive Leaders (2011)
Buck Pierce: 261-411, 3,348 YDS, 14 TD, 18 INT, 82.0 RTG
Terrence Edwards: 66 REC, 1,124 YDS, 8 TD
Chris Garrett: 92 ATT, 576 YDS, 6.3 AVG, 4 TD
"We're confident with the group we have right now,'' said Pierce, who enters his third season as Winnipeg's quarterback. "We feel that we have made improvements.''
Pierce was seventh on the CFL passing list during the regular 2011 season, behind last-place Saskatchewan's Darian Durant. He completed 261-of-411 passes but was intercepted a league-high 18 times.
Finding the key to more consistency is a must as the Bombers try to get back to a final they haven't won since 1990.
Pierce says they're ready, although he mused during training camp about the time needed to knit a new offence together. The Bombers also have a new offensive coordinator in Gary Crowton and a new faster style of play.
"That's football, ready or not here it comes,'' said Pierce. "We feel that we are ready. It's a process where you're always getting better and always improving and, with our system, I think it will be that way.''
The Bombers will have several new faces in the starting lineup when they open the 2012 season Friday with a Grey Cup rematch against the Lions in Vancouver.
"I'm excited that we're playing a team that was probably one of the hottest teams in the CFL last year,'' said head coach Paul LaPolice. "I like our team, I like what we're doing . . . but we've got to step up and perform.''
At tailback, Chris Garrett suffered an injury during practice on Tuesday. His status will be re-evaluated soon.
Rookie Chad Simpson also looks good and Calgary native Anthony Woodson is a promising newcomer as well. Simpson is injured, however, and may not make the season opener.
Irving: Bombers to live and die in the trenches
CFL.ca columnist Bob Irving claims that the success of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will depend on the performance of their offensive line.
At receiver, Terrence Edwards, third in the CFL last season with his eight touchdown receptions, remains the go-to guy with six seasons in Winnipeg and eight in the CFL.
Newcomer Chris Matthews is a big, fast import. Due to injuries, Montreal-born Kito Poblah didn't get much playing time in his debut season in 2011 but he's back for 2012. Slotback Cory Watson, a 2010 draft pick from Concordia, is on the injured list.
One of the big questions dogging Pierce is whether he can avoid injuries.
On the plus side, he played 16 games last season, a career high. If he does go down, the Bombers say they have confidence in backups Alex Brink and Joey Elliott. Brink earned the No. 1 backup slot.
The offensive line is a key to Pierce's good health and there are changes there as well. All-star guard Brendon LaBatte bolted for his native Saskatchewan and veteran centre Obby Khan retired.
The line is supposed to be anchored on either end by remaining veterans Glenn January and Andre Douglas with Steve Morley at right guard but Douglas is also out of action due to injury.
Chris Kowalczuk is the starting centre. It's a chance for Canadian linemen Paul Swiston and Tyson Pencer to get more time on the field but Pencer has been placed on the nine-game injured list.
Still, January is upbeat about the new faces.
"This is the young group of guys you definitely want to have,'' said January, entering his sixth CFL season and fourth with the Bombers. "It's very easy to be the elder statemen. . . when you have a group of guys who work hard.''
And he says there is no question about working hard.
» By the Numbers - Bombers Defensive Leaders (2011)
Jonathan Hefney: 76 Tackles
Jovon Johnson: 8 Interceptions
Kenny Mainor: 8 Sacks
"You have to demand it,'' he said. "This is a production-based business and we have to go out there and protect the quarterback and open up holes. It's as simple as that.''
The offence isn't the only area where a reno is underway.
There are also big changes on Winnipeg's "Swaggerville'' defence with the loss of veteran nose tackle Doug Brown and last season's CFL sack co-leader Odell Willis. Newcomer Brandon Collier is taking Brown's spot and another CFL rookie, Alex Hall, is replacing Willis.
LaPolice has said he sees so much depth in his defence this year he cut one of last season's strong performers, linebacker Clint Kent, who is being replaced as a starter by Brandon Stewart.
Jovon Johnson, the best defensive player in the CFL in 2011, insists all will be well once the regular season starts.
Some missed field goals and shanked punts led the Bombers to look around this season but they opted to stick with kicker Justin Palardy and punter Mike Renaud, after import Eric Wilbur showed no more consistency.
|2||Blue Bombers||DE||Mulumba, Andy|
|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|