Like every front-office, the Winnipeg Football Club will have to make some very tough decisions in regards to their final roster.
Every team has a plethora of talented Americans that will be casualties of the ratio, and the Bombers are no different. But a more unique issue on the club’s hands is handling the excess of proven/serviceable Canadians under contract – not preaching quantity over quality, that is – which will only make decisions even harder for Kyle Walters and Mike O’Shea when they sit down to finalize the roster at the end of training camp, which is set to begin on Sunday. It’s a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless. The passport of two or three Canadians that have been roster players for the Blue & Gold in previous seasons may not be enough to save their roster spots – the Bombers need to cut down to 22 or so Canadians, and it won’t be easy.
The Bombers only really have four or five spots available for new Americans in camp to compete for – and maybe less if Walters wants to keep as many Canadian roster players as possible, sacrificing import talent. There are quite a few first-year Americans that are quite intriguing, but with the team’s large quantity of Canadians as well as the rules and regulations of rosters in the CFL, many of these players don’t really have a chance to make the lineup right out of camp. It sounds harsh, but it’s the reality in the Canadian Football League.
The Bombers make a few eye-opening cuts (and maybe a trade) in my first roster projection, but still boast an impressive looking team on paper. Canadian talent is one of two major keys in the CFL; Winnipeg’s has never looked better in a very, very long time.
The Bombers cut three experienced Canadians in my projection – SB Kris Bastien, RB Pascal Lochard and DB Brendan Morgan. Bastien, who failed to produce in plenty of opportunities last season, is no longer needed with the Bombers only starting one Canadian receiver this year. Only recently acquired in free agency, Pascal Lochard is a valuable special-teamer, but with Sam Hurl available to play special-teams as well as the recently-drafted Shayne Gauthier, his services aren’t needed. With only three career carries, Lochard doesn’t inspire much confidence as Andrew Harris’ backup. The Bombers will also be carrying two fullbacks – one of which is capable, if not better, ball-carrier Chris Normand – which eliminates the possibility of carrying both Carlos Anderson and Pascal Lochard as Harris’ backup.
Anderson, as you may remember, likely earned a job on the Bombers’ roster last year before tearing his ACL in the second pre-season game. His return skills also give him some leverage over the competition, as the Bombers would struggle – or find it impossible – to find a roster spot for a backup American player elsewhere who’s able to return kicks. The Bombers will be forced to sub in a Canadian receiver for an American receiver when Anderson the game, which won’t be often with the do-it-all Andrew Harris, but that’s the way it goes with starting Canadian running backs.
I have Canadian defensive back Brendan Morgan, who was a frequent roster player for the Bombers in his rookie season. on the practice roster. Winnipeg’s second-round pick last year, Morgan struggled mightily on special-teams duty in his rookie campaign. Although it must be considered that he’s only one year into his young career, there’s no room on the roster for the Queen’s product when everyone’s healthy, as Taylor Loffler will be the Bombers’ fourth Canadian defensive back.
The Bombers would likely prefer to start five Americans in the secondary, with a rookie import slotting in at field-side corner. But the Bombers, who have already cut three Canadians in this mock, must start 8 Canadians to comply with the needed four designated imports if they wish to keep 22 Canadians on the roster. It’s possible that they cut another Canadian – likely Derek Jones – to allow an import to start at field-side corner, but that player is going to have to make an outstanding impressing in camp to make the Bombers cut (or trade) another Canadian roster player.
That import at corner could be Louisville product Johnny Patrick, a New Orleans Saints 2011 third-round pick with five starts under his belt. Concussions ultimately derailed Patrick’s career, as he was only pronounced fully medically clear earlier this year. Could Patrick be this year’s Johnny Adams on an already loaded secondary?
Donald Celiscar, who recorded 217 tackles, 10 interceptions and 45 pass defenses at Western Michigan, as well as former Detroit Lions 2012 sixth-round pick Jonte Green, will threaten for jobs in the secondary, but with Adrian Hubbard and Nate Collins expected to win spots on defense, there’s no room for a backup international defensive back on the roster.
Hubbard’s battle for Greg Peach’s former position at defensive end against the likes of the University of Miami’s Shayon Green and second-year Bomber Justin Cole could be the competition to watch at camp. Although I really like Green’s athleticism with his large build – the Steelers once envisioned Green as an outside linebacker instead of a 3-4 defensive end – it’s the two-year starter at Alabama, Adrian Hubbard, who I expect to finish camp with a starting gig. The six-foot-six, 255-pound pass-rusher was Alabama’s most productive defensive lineman before foregoing his senior year to enter the NFL draft, registering 47 tackles, 10 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. Hubbard spent all of 2014 on Green Bay’s practice roster before being a final cut in training camp 2015. He was immediately picked up by Miami and spent all of last season on their practice roster.
Also earning a spot on the defensive line, second-year Bomber Nate Collins should rotate in after Euclid Cummings as a three-technique. Collins (6’2″, 294-lbs) recorded 8 tackles and a sack in five games last year while continuously posing a pass-rushing threat, as three-techs should.
The Bombers’ final addition to the nineteen international players I expect them to dress is Julian Talley, a six-foot-one receiver who bounced on and off the New York Giants’ practice roster for four seasons from 2012-2015 – it’s quite the story. The University of Massachusetts alum’s primary competition should be Jace Davis, Justin Veltung, Soloman Patton and Quincy McDuffie. The final three on that list are all also returners, which gives them quite the advantage – and makes me hope one of them wins the starting job – with the Bombers lacking a second returner opposite Carlos Anderson. Regardless, the club seems to be high on Talley and Davis. And although I have Talley winning the job at field wide receiver, don’t take my word for it; the previous four players I had penciled in as the favorites to start at the remaining receiver position either retired (Tevin Smith, Jerrell Jernigan) or were cut (Larry Pinkard, Ricky Collins).
It’s not easy to predict which American rookies will be legitimate CFL roster players with no game film available, but the Bombers’ roster, fortunately, does not have a lot of open spots available, which is somewhat indicative of the team’s now-impressive Canadian talent. Should the Bombers only start seven Canadians this year, there’s not as many roster options available. And if Matt Bucknor does hold down his field-corner spot, or Sam Hurl remains in the middle – well, that’s an entirely different story.
The picture will become clearer very soon as training camp opens.