FEATURED PHOTO BY DAVID LIPNOWSKI/BISON SPORTS
Kyle Walters, Paul LaPolice and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers knew exactly what they were getting when scooped up hometown product Nic Demski on day one of free agency in 2018.
This is the same player who dominated the Canada West with the Manitoba Bisons, playing the prime years of his university football career on Investors Group Field. This is a player whose greatest CFL success has also come right in front of the blue & gold, as Demski’s first career offensive touch — a jet-sweep — went 40 yards around the edge of Winnipeg’s 2015 defence. His first career punt return touchdown, too, came in his rookie season against the Bombers, and his finest game as a pass-catcher — a seven-catch, 82-yard, one touchdown outing in week two of last season — once again came at the cost of Kyle Walters’ club.
After three seasons of showing flashes in Saskatchewan, Demski has come home to finally realize his potential and develop into the offensive weapon that he was drafted sixth-overall to become. And according to Demski, who hinted on himself getting a lot of touches in this offence in a lot of different ways, that is what his decision to join the Bombers was all about.
“It wasn’t about coming home for me to come here. It was about being in an offence that is well suited for me and my versatility and what I can bring to the table. LaPo does a wonderful job of doing that with players in the past. He told me, straight up, he wants to use my versatility to every strength that he can.”
Demski had to have been certainly enticed to join this offence after seeing how LaPolice has been able to maximize the talents of Andrew Harris and Timothy Flanders last season. After a roster opening allowed Flanders to get on the game-day roster in week seven, LaPolice unleashed a series of plays out of 20 personnel (two running backs, 0 fullbacks/tight ends) for Harris and Flanders. As Harris and Flanders began to have more and more success together on the field, LaPolice’s 20 personnel grew week after week until it essentially became their base personnel grouping. Flanders’ role became larger and larger as it evolved, and before the end of the season, the team began to carry one less receiver, instead listing Flanders as a slot-back on their depth chart.
Fullback Christophe Normand and receiver/returner Ryan Lankford are other examples of LaPolice designing an offence to the strengths of its weapons. Normand ran a couple of inside-zone runs with Harris split out in the slot, and was the recipient of a handful of delayed slip-screens to put his athleticism to use. Lankford ran a series of end-arounds in the run game, while his blistering speed was used to stretch coverages on double-moves (see week seven opening-play 79-yard touchdown reception in Ottawa, Ontario).
And not to mention Matt Nichols, who under the tutelage of LaPolice and his quick-throw, fast-paced offence, transformed his career as a back-up and fringe starter into a legitimately elite, franchise quarterback.
Now, enter Demski. LaPolice’s newest versatile weapon spent his first couple seasons of university football as a running back, and has already made big plays in this league in a number of different ways. Demski’s arrival is especially important for LaPolice and the offence due to the fact that it may not have access to Timothy Flanders every week.
There are several different ways for the Bombers to structure their roster, but with Kevin Fogg, Justin Medlock, Ian Wild and Craig Roh/Tristan Okpalaugo, the Bombers already have four designated imports. The Bombers could make room fairly easily for Flanders by removing Wild or Roh, but the addition of NAT RB Kienan LaFrance signals that they might not exactly be pressed to do that.
With Demski now in the fold, the Bombers also have less of a need to activate Flanders and remove an ever-valuable rotational international pass-rusher or linebacker. The club has already said previously that the 25-year-old could see work as a running back, and while I think he could get one or two carries per game as a running back just for another look/wrinkle in the offence, it is more likely that he’ll be asked to do a lot of the stuff Flanders did as a slot-back late last season.
Having other versatile players on the field that can create openings for Andrew Harris and can carry some of his workload bodes very well for the 31-year-old. With a player like Nic Demski and a creative mind such as a Paul LaPolice, the possibilities are seemingly endless.