Grading the Blue Bombers part two

After evaluating the offensive line (B), quarterbacks (F), running backs (B+) and wide receivers (C) in last week’s issue of the Manitoban, the rest of the team now gets their grades:

Defensive line
In a word, these guys were dominant, no matter who was on the line. Anchored by veteran and perennial CFL All-Star Doug Brown, the Bombers had a host of players rotating on the D-line in 2009, and all of them were fairly effective at putting pressure on the quarterback. When Gavin Walls and Fred Perry went down, newcomers Dorian Smith, Odell Willis (from the trade with Calgary) and Phillip Hunt played with ferocity and were constantly giving offensive lines headaches and getting into the backfield to make plays. Former U of M Bison Donny Oramasionwu was also a beast, rotating in with Brown. All in all, the defence was the most consistent aspect of the team all year, and mad props have to be given to the Big Dog (Doug Brown), and his pups. A

Without getting into the whole Simpson/Kelly debacle that may or may not have happened depending on who you talk to, the Bomber LBs were solid in 2009. Even though they did not seem to blitz as much as I would have liked, and there always seemed to be a wide open running back in the flat waiting for a check-down pass from the QB, generally they were all very good in their coverage assignments and solid at containing short passes. Winnipeg led the league in average yards per catch (7.1). Special interest paid to Sideeq Shabazz, acquired in a trade with the Edmonton Eskimos, who came out of the gate strong, picking off a pass deep in Bomber territory and bringing it all the way back for a touchdown in the home opener on July 10.He also proved he was definitely a great addition when he was able to fill in at safety when called upon due to injury. With names like Ike “Ice Man” Charlton, “The Minister of Defence” Barrin Simpson, and Joe “Lobo Cop” Lobendahn lining up behind the D-line, what’s not to love? Hopefully they all will be returning for another round of duty in 2010. B+

Welcome to Swaggaville. The Blue Bombers led the league in interceptions this year, thanks in large part to this group of young ball-hawking defensive backs. These guys are a tight group who play like they’ve known each other for years, and were a blast to watch all year. Rookie of the Year candidate Jonathon Hefney was arguably the most exciting player in the secondary to watch, and he’s going to be a player to pay close attention to for years to come. Along with Hefney, the Bomber secondary features kick-return guru Jovon Johnson, and shut-down cornerback Lenny Walls, who were both outstanding. In some games, the defence (and special teams) created the only highlights for Bomber fans to cheer about, so because of that, I have to give these guys an A+ and just hope that we don’t lose any of these guys to the NFL.

Special teams
This aspect of the team, for the past few years, has always seemed to be the major weakness, but not this year. Alexis Serna, returning for his second year of place-kicking duties, improved on his 66 per cent field goal percentage from 2008 by kicking 81 per cent of his chances in 2009. Mike Renaud, punter, was brought in from Calgary before the season and was exceptional with his directional kicking and was a beast on covering his own kicks, laying a few punishing licks on opposing returners before unfortunately knocking himself out for the rest of the season during a game in Hamilton on Thanksgiving. Future Blue Bomber Hall of Famer Troy Westwood was brought in to replace Renaud for the remainder of the season and performed adequately given the short notice he was given. On the returning side of the game, for the first part of the season, the team was having a hard time designating a kick returner. Enter Jovon Johnson. Johnson grew into the role and now he stands as one of the elite returners in the league. On Oct. 24, in a home game against Montreal, Johnson made a jaw-dropping punt return that will likely end up being the CFL play of the year. Besides the main players, all the other special team players were stellar in their downfield coverage and blocking on kicks and returns, and for that, I am giving the Blue Bombers special teams an A.

So there you have it. From looking through my grades, you will see that if this team had a capable, consistent quarterback throughout the entire year, reliable receivers that didn’t quit on the team, and a more effective offensive plan, the Bombers could very easily still be playing football in late November. The defence is there, the special teams is there. We just have to get the offense figured out (specifically the quarterbacks and the offensive schemes/play calling! I’ll leave it to Mike Kelly and the coaching staff to fix what they know needs to be fixed over the off-season) and this team will be a force to be reckoned with. We have enough promising prospects to get excited for the next few seasons.