Grading the Blue Bombers

On Sunday, Nov. 29 the two CFL teams that proved that they had the right stuff to make it to the Grey Cup final will duel it out for the big prize. Sadly, for two weeks now, we have known that our Winnipeg Blue Bombers will not be playing in the championship game. The Blue Bombers ended their season on a disappointing note, after a second half collapse against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in front of a nearly sold-out “blue out” at CanadInns Stadium. The game was a must-win situation and the Bombers simply came up short when they needed to produce. As we watch the Grey Cup this Sunday, Bomber fans will all be asking themselves the same question: when will the Bombers get back to playing championship-calibre football?

In Mike Kelly’s first year as head coach of the Blue Bombers, he has taken his fair share of criticism. It is clear that Kelly still has some learning to do, and this season will serve as a good learning experience for him. Looking at the team he put together piece by piece, lets breakdown the Blue Bomber squad and hand out some year end grades:

Offensive line
During the past off-season, the Blue Bombers unfortunately lost a few key members of the O-line to free agency. Offensive tackle Dan Goodspeed, 2009 CFL All-Star Selection, was involved in an off-season trade with the Hamilton Ti-Cats. The loss of so many talented linemen had many people fearing that the new O-line group would not perform well. As it would turn out, the Bombers posted the fewest sacks in the league (26). While inconsistent at times, the big hogs up front would prove to be vital in creating huge holes for running back Fred Reid to exploit for some huge gains; for nearly the entire season Reid was in the top three for rushing yards. Given the short time they had to gel and their decent performance throughout the season, I give the O-line a B.

The quarterback situation throughout the year was a mess. The Bombers posted some of the worst offensive stats in team history, and took part in some of the most unwatchable and embarrassing games that I have ever seen. Releasing Kevin Glenn in the off-season to avoid paying him the $150,000 bonus that he was about to receive proved to be costly as the Bombers started the season with no quarterbacks with much CFL starting experience and no veteran presence at the most critical position on the team. An early season injury to Lefors made the situation worse, and Michael Bishop, an experienced CFL quarterback who had been without a team for nearly a year, was called in to right the ship. Bishop had some great games and some brutal games, and one has to admire his courage and effort, but in the end he was unable to pull off a win in the most important game of the year. On the positive side, Ricky Santos, a late season acquisition from the Montreal Alouettes was clutch in short third-down situations, scoring one on the ground against his former team. Unfortunately, for the simple fact that the team still does not have a bona fide starting quarterback, with only question marks at the position, I have to give the 2009 Blue Bomber quarterbacks an F.

Running backs
Running backs Fred Reid and newcomer Yvenson Bernard were, at times, phenomenal. Fred Reid broke the team record for most rushing yards in a single game with his huge 260 yard performance in B.C. Place against the Lions, and Bernard proved to be deadly when he got the ball with any open space in front of him. But, for every great game on the ground, there came some disappointments when the running game was simply not there. Unfortunately, as great as our RBs were at times, the Bombers still managed to finish the season dead last in the rushing TD category (10). Opponents came into games knowing that with essentially no passing game to worry about, they could focus mainly on the Bombers’ ground game and were effective at killing drives on many occasions. Also to be mentioned here is Jon Oosterhuis, who converted from a D-Lineman to a fullback this year. Besides laying some sweet blocks and a few clutch catches for first downs, I just really like the guy. I give the RBs a solid B+, because if we had a passing game for defences to worry about, they would have been the best in the league.

Wide receivers
From the very first game of the season, we had problems at this position. Derrick Armstrong, who had amassed over 1,000 yards receiving in 2008, refused to play, even though he was dressed and completely capable. Because of this, he was cut. As the season went along, Romby Bryant, another 1,000-yard receiver from 2008, was clearly underperforming. With new faces Adarius Bowman and Brock Ralph proving to be valuable alongside returning Bombers Terrance Edwards and Aaron Hargreaves, the coaches brought in some new faces through free agency (Otis Amey and Dudley Guice Jr., who both showed enough in practise to get some game time in the second half of the season), and traded away Bryant and fan favourite Arjei Franklin to the Calgary Stampeders for two wide receivers (Jabari Arthur, who never played a game this year due to injury and Titus Ryan who scored three TDs through the three games he played), a D-lineman and two draft picks. Now, given that the Bomber receivers at the beginning of the season are completely different than those at the end of the season, when the Bombers offence began to gel, I’m going to grade them based on the improvement that I’ve seen throughout the year, and give them a C. Still disappointing, but there seems to be promise for the future.

Stay tuned next week as this evaluation of the Blue Bombers continues with a look at the defensive line, linebackers and special teams.