Bombers’ Secondary Quietly Impresses in Debut of Randle, Adams

Despite receiving great, turnover-forcing football from a young, patch-work secondary throughout their seven-game winning streak, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers haven’t played a single game in 2016 where both cornerbacks Johnny Adams and Chris Randle are active.

Finally, in their 46-29 win over Dan LeFevour’s Toronto Argonauts, Mike O’Shea’s defensive coaching staff finally witnessed their defensive backfield with both of their star corners in the lineup. Despite the Argonauts scoring four touchdowns in the air and 26 first half points, the early returns of this now-healthy secondary were promising.

The Bombers held another quarterback to under 300 yards passing – LeFevour completed 22 of 34 passes for 276 yards – and recorded another two interceptions, courtesy of Randle and Maurice Leggett. While 445 total yards of offense is too much, it’d be wrong to point the blame at the secondary for those gaudy statistical numbers. A specific group of six starters – Randle, Adams, Kevin Fogg, Maurice Leggett, Taylor Loffler and Bruce Johnson – that the Bombers have been anticipating to see when everyone healed up, this unit, who some were quick to argue struggled in their first game together, played better than it would seem at first-watch or after looking at the final stats.

While it’s fair to say that Randle and Adams didn’t quite live up to all the hype in their first game on the field together, they both showed flashes of why they’re each regarded as elite cornerbacks in the league. Bombers’ fans have debated plentifully which of the two would be moved to field corner upon their return to health, and seeing as they’re each too good to be wasted out wide, the Bombers’ solution was quite intriguing. Rather than having one always align in the short-side and one always align to the wide-side, Randle played 100% of his snaps at left cornerback, and Adams played 100% of his snaps at right cornerback.

This strategy is not seen in today’s Canadian Football League. The standard procedure for teams is to put their best cornerback in the boundary and their worst cover-man at wide-side corner, where he’ll be targeted far less as the throws are tougher to make. The Bombers, however, have two stud cornerbacks, so why not have them each play both positions pending on what side of the field the ball is scrimmaged from?

Coincidentally, both Randle and Adams each played 28 snaps at field-corner and 28 snaps at boundary-corner. Meanwhile, nothing changed for the halfbacks – Fogg (boundary) and Johnson (field) each played all 56 snaps at their regular positions.

Working with a different halfback depending on if they were playing short-side corner or wide-side corner would seem to have been a challenge for Randle and Adams, but there weren’t any visible communication errors. Although it’s unknown if the Bombers will continue to deploy their stud cornerbacks in this fashion going forward, it was a much better first game for this now-healthy unit than some might think.

As expected for this much-anticipated group, the Bombers received solid play across the board from their defensive backs. The outlier, to some degree, was Randle, who the Argos visibly attempted to pick on during his snaps at short-side cornerback, but it wasn’t all bad for the fifth-year veteran. While it was a bit of a roller-coaster ride with Randle, it’s fair to say clear that all six Bomber defensive backs contributed significantly to keeping another passing offense below 300 yard.

screenshot-2016-09-19-14-22-18

Often isolated in the boundary in man-coverage, Randle had plenty of tough assignments over the course of the game. While he did grade out as the Bombers’ worst defensive back, he wasn’t worse by very much despite allowing more passing yards than the five others combined. Randle was left out to dry on numerous occasions as a result of a bad mixture of missed sacks and poor gap discipline that often allowed LeFevour to escape the pocket and extend plays.

That was the case on Randle’s first touchdown allowed, a 49-yard completion to Kenny Shaw. Randle was isolated to the field-side against Shaw, who, along with having all of the wide-side of the field to work with, also had the advantage of a pre-snap waggle. Randle was forced to cover for an unmanageable amount of time on the play – Jamaal Westerman missed the tackle for a sack on LeFevour, who escaped to the outside – and had no chance. Although Shaw had separation on his original move due to Randle panicking and not staying square in his back-pedal, the damage was caused by a missed tackle on the quarterback.

Randle was also beat for an 11-yard touchdown on a dig-route from Tori Gurley. The Bombers were in press-man in the red-zone, and the 6-foot-4, 230-pound wide-receiver used his big-bodied frame perfectly to box-out Randle and prevent him from making a play on the ball. Randle prevented Gurley from getting separation, but the sophomore receiver simply had the size advantage in the match-up.

While Randle’s not-that-bad-at-all grade (-1.5) might not seem nearly harsh enough considering he allowed 96 yards, he still recorded an interception, two break-ups and a run-stop. In reality, only 50% of his targets were completions, and he was also tasked with fulfilling a lot of tough assignments that Johnny Adams wasn’t simply because of the Argos’ play-calling. We’ve seen much, much better from Randle, who was looking like the league’s best cornerback before injuring himself in the July 21 loss to Calgary, but his return to the lineup wasn’t as horrendous as some of the numbers say.

Adams’ fourth game back from injury was far more quiet, meanwhile. The 2015 All-Star didn’t allow a completion of more than nine yards, and that play should have been a pick-six had he not badly misplayed the ball in the air. After playing 14 of the first 15 snaps at boundary cornerback – which was completely coincidental – Adams spent much of the remaining game at field corner.

It won’t be easy finding a position for newly-acquired defensive back TJ Heath if the Bombers keep playing like this. Bruce Johnson was sound at field halfback, and while he’s been quite inconsistent this season, he played one of his best games of the season on Saturday.

The Bombers’ secondary as a whole played a solid game on Saturday, and it would have seemed much more respectable had the front-seven done a better job keeping LeFevour in the pocket and stopping the Argos’ rushing-attack on the ground.

Randle will bounce back, and although we don’t know if he’ll continue to take all of his snaps at left cornerback while Adams takes all the snaps at right cornerback, it’s all but guaranteed that this now-healthy secondary should continue to build on their quietly solid first game together.

With the soaring Calgary Stampeders next on the schedule, the Blue & Gold secondary needs to live up to the hype against a dynamic aerial attack.

PHOTO CREDIT TO JOHN WOODS OF THE CANADIAN PRESS. I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO OR CLAIM TO.
PHOTO CREDIT TO JOHN WOODS OF THE CANADIAN PRESS. I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO OR CLAIM TO.

Play Breakdown: Kevin Fogg’s Game-Breaking Interception on Kilgore

Whether its on special-teams or defense, Bombers’ rookie corner Kevin Fogg has done nothing but continuously spark the team since he became the second-most experienced player in the secondary due to a slew of injuries.

The Bombers’ offense was struggling out of the gate in week 8 at BMO Field, with constant two-&-outs and short drives courtesy of bad field position. The struggles reached a climax when QB Matt Nichols threw a bad interception to Argos’ FS Thomas Gordon early in the second quarter.

But, as they’ve done quite frequently this season, the defense responded on the very next play. Fogg picked off QB Logan Kilgore for his first interception of the night – he’d go on to throw four more – on a great break on the ball from the 1st-year halfback. Middle linebacker Khalil Bass went on to intercept Kilgore on the next possession, and the offense finally punched it in for six. The Bombers would go on to lay a beat-down, defeating the Argos in their own barn by a score of 34-17.

THE BREAKDOWN

The Bombers were in cover-3 on Fogg’s interception at the 11:08 mark of the second quarter. It was 1st-&-10, and defensive coordinator Richie Hall had called a relatively common, conservative zone coverage.

Fogg was responsible for a deep-third of the field – Fogg (#23), FS Taylor Loffler (#16) and CB Terrance Frederick (#35) split the field into three deep zones – while weak-side linebacker Ian Wild and SAM linebacker Maurice Leggett dropped underneath to middle-hook zones.

Boundary cornerback CJ Roberts (#17) is in a curl-to-flat zone, while field halfback Bruce Johnson (#25) is guarding the flats. Roberts is taking away any corner-route or deep out-route from the no. 3 receiver in the boundary, while cautiously eyeing the flats.

Screenshot 2016-08-22 10.28.42

Break-out slotback Kenny Shaw is the intended receiver on the play. The second-year Argo ran a post-corner, meaning he stemmed on a 45-degree angle to the corner before redirecting and breaking inside on a post-route. Seeing as Shaw is the primary receiver on the play, Kilgore’s first read is on the WILL, Ian Wild, to see if a window would open up to throw a strike down the seam. The young quarterback probably thought the SAM linebacker, Moe Leggett, would bail to the flats or use trail coverage on Shaw – a rookie mistake of pre-determining.

Kilgore’s eyes probably lit up when he watched Wild bail to the left, thinking there’d be a huge window to throw the ball to the post-corner. That would’ve been correct except Leggett hadn’t actually fled for the flats as he anticipated, and would have made the interception if he wasn’t eyeing the hook-route of the no. 2 receiver in the boundary.

In the end, Kilgore made a fine decision on the play; he really only needed one linebacker to vacate, and that came into fruition. The interception was simply a great play from Wild and Fogg, who saw Shaw cross his face on the corner-route and immediately crashed downhill to the receiver. Wild, meanwhile, showed off his incredible range on the play. Despite dropping towards the wide-side of the field, the fourth-year veteran redirected when he saw Kilgore ready to release the ball. He flipped his hips and flew over towards Shaw, covering a lot of ground in the process. Wild delivered a bone-crushing hit as the ball arrived, keeping the recipient on the ground for a few minutes. Essentially, Shaw had no chance to catch that pass.

Fogg would finish the game with two interceptions, a sack, a fumble recovery and a 17.2 yard punt-return average, earning Player of the Week honors.

His first interception, though, would be his finest play of the night.

NATHAN DENETTE (THE CANADIAN PRESS) I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO OR CLAIM TO.
NATHAN DENETTE (THE CANADIAN PRESS) I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO OR CLAIM TO.

Stock Market Report: Bombers vs. Argonauts

It’s official: the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are streaking, and it shouldn’t end soon.

Having somewhat survived the gruesome opening third of the season, their schedule gets much easier for awhile. In their next three games, the Blue & Gold will play in Montreal and the home-and-home with Saskatchewan. That’s three games that the Bombers are expected to win.

Yes, that makes it six consecutive games the Winnipeg Football Club is expected to win.

The club’s 34-17 win in Toronto, which featured five interceptions from the defense, a 100-yard rushing game and zero sacks-surrendered, has certainly got the ball rolling for the next part of their schedule. This game was another huge confidence booster and, for once, I don’t have this feeling deep down that the team will let the fans down in the next three contests, losing two or more.

BLUE CHIP STOCKS

1. Jamaal Westerman, DE: The Bombers’ Most Outstanding Player nominee in 2015 didn’t even crack the stat-sheet, but he was the best player on the field on Friday. Westerman recorded two quarterback pressures – one of which featured a QB hit – and was consistently grading positively on his pass-rushes on Argos’ LT Chris Van Zeyl. He showed above-average awareness compared to fellow defensive ends when dropping into coverage, and as long as the 31-year-old continues his outstanding work against the run, he’ll continue to earn blue-chip stocks (and be labeled as the best, all-around defensive end in the league).

2. Travis Bond, LG: This was only the rookie’s third ever start, and while he has graded positively in all three starts, the 6-foot-7, 256-pounder is still ironing out the wrinkles in his game. When he makes a good play, it’s always an outstanding play. But, despite these promising blocks, he’s still making plenty of minor errors or leaving some plays on the field. Evidently, Bond has sky-high potential, and since he’s already showing well, it’s hard to imagine just how good he’ll be once he has more experience under his belt. Bond was the Bombers’ best pass-blocker all night, and while he started to catch blocks in the run-game as the contest wore on, his raw strength was enough to open up lanes for running back Andrew Harris.

3. Ian Wild, LB: The fourth-year Bomber has had some good/great games as well as some poor games in 2016. The Argos’ game was undisputedly his best performance all season. Wild played a near flawless game, showing his tremendous range and quickness against the pass, while the Richie Hall’s signature 4-3, 50-front finally worked, opening up lanes for Wild, his MIKE linebacker. Back in week one, the Alouettes attacked Wild in the air, flooding his zone to take advantage of the single high inside linebacker look. But since that game, and as the season has progressed, he’s been absolutely outstanding against the pass. He covered acres of the field, and his nearly decapitating hit on receiver Kenny Shaw during Kevin Fogg’s interception is one of several examples from this game. Wild dropped high and to the right to fulfill a deep, middle-hook zone – almost as an inside robber keeping his eyes on the quarterback while trusting his peripherals (something that Taylor Loffler needs to work at). He then immediately flips to the left faster than most linebackers as Kilgore winds up to throw, and somehow makes it to the receiver to deliver the knockout blow, covering a ton of ground in the process. There aren’t many linebackers in the league that are expected to make that play, with Wild and Adam Bighill being the exceptions.

SOLID INVESTMENTS

1. Andrew Harris, RB: Although Harris had a spectacular second half on route to a 123-yard rushing game, his rough start, which included a handful of runs with straight tunnel-vision (he made a lot of lackluster reads and missed cut-back lanes), brought down his grade just enough. It wasn’t perfect, but from there on Harris consistently scraped for every yard despite merely OK run-blocking. He put on a clinic on breaking tackles and keeping feet moving while running through contact, as none of his runs came easy. Harris, at times, needed to create for himself or make up for missed assignments from the offensive line. The Winnipeg native is now first in the CFL in rushing with 503 yards.

2. Euclid Cummings, DT: While nose tackle Keith Shologan’s success was primarily against two young, inexperienced linemen in RG Corey Watman and rookie C Sean McEwen, Cummings managed to dominate All-Star LG Tyler Holmes. The former Argo continues to be a gem as a pass-rusher, notching two pressures on Logan Kilgore. Playing second fiddle to Westerman, the 6-foot-3, 298-lb three-tech was a threat on the edge when Bombers used stunts between the defensive end and defensive tackle, which few of his size can. Cummings also breached the blocking for two tackle-for-losses in one his best, all-around games of the year.

3. Maurice Leggett, SAM: Likely the face of the defense to Bombers’ fans, Leggett was on cue for his weekly programming of entertainment. The third-year defensive back snagged a pair of interceptions – one of them being returned 98-yards for a touchdown  – and was effective against the run. Although his first interception earned a neutral grade, his second, which only came about a minute later, was much more of an impressive play. As Leggett dropped deep and to the sidelines as a deep-zone defender in cover-3, he picked up receiver Wallace Miles’ corner route. He then climbed the ladder to make a beautiful catch over Miles while keeping his feet in bounds. It was his nicest interception of the season – he leads the CFL with four – in a game where he didn’t surrender a single catch allowed.

(Just missed: Keith Shologan, Stanley Bryant)

JUNK BONDS

1. Manase Foketi, RT: Based on his preseason, Foketi’s regular season debut went as expected: it wasn’t good. Although his run-blocking was the biggest issue, he struggled blocking across his face, being fooled badly by the out-n-in moves of Shawn Lemon – a premiere pass-rusher – from over-committing. In terms of run-blocking, which is typically an extremely easy job for offensive tackles in the CFL, Foketi struggled with both down-blocking and going up to the second-level. Considering how good Jermarcus Hardrick was playing at right tackle, I’d be counting down the days until his return.

2. Chris Normand, FB: In typical rookie fashion, the 1st-year starter – but sophomore Canadian – followed up a great two-game stretch with a poor one. Normand wasn’t quite as involved in the offense like usual, but he hurt the team more than he helped when on the field.

3. Matt Nichols, QB: Sure, Nichols’ grade would have been better if he needed to do more, but the ground-attack was looking unstoppable, and the defense kept forcing turnovers. In the 28 drop-backs he took, he happened to make a lot of mistakes and miss some throws. Nichols’ first interception came on a throw to rookie receiver Kris Adams, who rounded behind the DB in zone coverage to run his in-route, which was a risky throw based on the following: both FS Thomas Gordon and LB Cory Greenwood saw Nichols staring at Adams, while the halfback seemingly noticed the receiver cutting behind him. It would’ve been a great play if Nichols completed the pass in the small window, but instead he sailed the ball high and to the right. Nichols should have also thrown a second interception, except Greenwood chose to tip the ball up rather than making the easy interception. The veteran signal-caller was looking for Jace Davis on a dig-route across the middle, but Greenwood was sitting right in the passing lane – a rookie mistake for Nichols. He also badly under-threw Adams wide open down the sidelines on a go-route in the third quarter, and other than that, he simply missed some open receivers in the direction he was looking and attempted passes to others that were well covered.

(Just missed: CB CJ Roberts, RG Sukh Chungh)

BUY/SELL

BUY: Kevin Fogg is legit. Two interceptions, a sack, a fumble recovery and an outrageously good return average; Kevin Fogg played the best game any rookie has played this season (at least in the box score). With Chris Randle, Johnny Adams and Julian Posey soon returning from injury, Fogg will not be the one losing his spot. I’d expect these six starters in the secondary: Adams (B-CB), Fogg (B-HB), Loffler (FS), Leggett (SAM/SS), Johnson (F-HB), Randle (F-CB). Both CJ Roberts and and Terrance Frederick will be kept around – possibly on the 1-game injured list.

SELL: Clarence Denmark has returned better than ever: Look, I’m cheering for Denmark as much as anyone, but all three of his touchdowns have been the result blown coverages. His touchdown in Hamilton was on a fake screen pass, and his 79-yard major in Toronto was off play-action that made the Argos’ entire defensive backfield bite. His other touchdown in Toronto was also blown coverage on his corner-route – HB Devin Smith, who had a deep-third in cover-3, ran with Thomas Mayo’s post-route by mistake. He also had a 35-yard catch in the third quarter that was also as a result of deadly play-action pass.


NEXT GAME: Friday, August 26 in Montreal.

rory
ALL CREDIT TO THE CANADIAN PRESS. I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO OR CLAIM TO.

Fogg Emerging as Potential Candidate for Most Outstanding Rookie

As the Bombers’ defensive backfield crumbled from injuries, their one consistent defender in the secondary just happened to be a rookie. Kevin Fogg, a 1st-year player from Liberty University, has gotten better every week since winning a roster spot following constant interceptions in training camp.

Fogg’s four tackle, two interception and one fumble recovery game – with a 16.3 average on punt returns –  last week in Toronto was likely the best game any rookie has played this season. He was, however, burned for a touchdown on Diontae Spencer’s corner-route, and while he’s not always consistently a shutdown defensive back, it appeared as though Fogg thought the ball was already thrown given he had stopped running on the play. Playing the game’s most difficult position in the secondary, boundary halfback, while also proving to be a threat in the return game, Fogg is gaining the reputation of an exciting, highly-entertaining play-maker in his rookie year.

In a weak rookie class, Fogg could even be considered the leading candidate for the league’s Most Outstanding Rookie award, in fact. There’s very little competition as the season nears September; his biggest competition is perhaps Saskatchewan’s Ricky Collins Jr., who’s become an inconsistent performer given the struggles of the Riders’ offense. Loucheiz Purifoy is starting to come around in British Columbia, but at this point, there’s a lack of notable rookies at skill-positions.

When it comes to league awards, the voters don’t typically look very far past final statistics and other outliers, such as the success of the player’s team, injuries to other rookies, etc.. The level of difficulty of the player’s role/position in their system is not really considered – a defensive back could have five interceptions, but two of them, for example, came when he was in trap-coverage where he’s expected to make the play as the quarterback fell for the trick of the defense (see CJ Roberts’ pick-six against Hamilton) – or necessarily the amount of negative plays accumulated, or even his value to the team. There’s a difference between the ball being thrown to you, and making a play on the ball. Although it’s a different league and group of voters, Kansas City Chiefs’ cornerback Marcus Peters was crowned the AFC’s Defensive Rookie of the Year thanks to a whopping 7 interceptions, but he also allowed the fourth-most touchdowns and second-most yards in the entire league.

Fogg is accumulating those big, eye-popping numbers; he already has 3 interceptions, 42 tackles, a sack, a fumble-recovery and two return-touchdowns called back. It won’t be, but what should be considered is that he plays the defensive backfield’s toughest position in boundary halfback, which consists of being on a complete island in several coverages. The wide-side halfback has constant support from the strong-side linebacker – the short-side halfback does not.

Fogg has also dropped two easy interceptions – one against Montreal and one against Calgary – which would have boosted his stat-line even more, giving him three interceptions where the ball was thrown right at him and a total of five not even at the midway mark of the season.

Deservedly so, Fogg’s performance as a punt returner is causing a buzz around the CFL. He’s been electric back there, proving to be patient behind his blockers before bursting through the seem. It’s unknown if he’s sustainable as a punt returner since he’s more of an east-west runner, but the historic NCAA FCS returner is still young enough to be coached out of his bad habits. With blazing speed and cut-on-dime ability, Fogg has all the physical abilities required, but there’s no guarantee that head coach and special-teams coordinator Mike O’Shea won’t hand the return duties back to Quincy McDuffie when he returns from injury. McDuffie is quite capable, while in Fogg’s case, playing full-time on defense and special-teams is usually too much for a player to handle.

Regardless, if he keeps making big plays on defense, and the Bombers’ defense continues to improve, the accolades will come for Fogg. He could still be underappreciated for how well he plays away from the ball, but a Rookie of the Year award – the first Bomber to win since Chris Matthews in 2012 – would still be quite the feat for number 23.

NATHAN DENETTE (THE CANADIAN PRESS) I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO OR CLAIM TO.
NATHAN DENETTE (THE CANADIAN PRESS) I DO NOT OWN THIS PHOTO OR CLAIM TO.

Bombers’ Defensive backfield could rival Ottawa in 2016

The Blue Bombers’ defensive backfield has been somewhat of an anomaly in the last two seasons.

Arguably seen as the Bombers’ most talented unit heading into last season, the Bombers still finished sixth in passing defense. It takes the entire defensive unit to stop the pass, however, and the Bombers failed to generate a consistent pass-rush, while the Linebackers often struggled in coverage.

Despite very conservative play-calling, the Bombers’ secondary, with the exception of one player, was no slouch in 2o15. With the release of the most picked-on defensive back in the league, Demond Washington, as well as several potential additions in training camp, the Bombers could develop into the league’s top secondary this season.

Of course, nothing is awarded in the pre-season. The Bombers’ defensive backs will have to play up to their full potential on a weekly basis in order to join the conversation with Ottawa, who easily boasted the league’s top secondary last season.

The Redblacks’ overload of absurd international depth behind star-power within the starters allowed them to dominate each week no matter who was in the lineup. Ottawa released one of the league’s best cover-men, Brandon McDonald, early in the season for taking too many stupid penalties. Abdul Kanneh, who emerged as a top-2 defensive back in the CFL, took over the boundary corner position, while Brandyn Thompson drawed in at the now-vacant boundary halfback spot. Thompson ended up being one of the league’s top halfbacks and a CFL All-Star. Jerrell Gavins, one of the league’s best raw cover-men, had a great sophomore season, while veteran field corner Jovon Johnson turned back the clock in his ninth CFL season, earning All-Star honors.

The Redblacks’s depth went far beyond Thompson’s emergence, though. Ottawa’s nominee for Most Outstanding Rookie, Forrest Hightower, proved he was a great halfback in the many starts he received, while Brandon Sermons made his first-career start in the Grey Cup game at boundary corner, displaying unlimited potential against star pass-catcher Derel Walker. With two rookies starting in the Grey Cup game, Jermaine Robinson provided even more stability as the last line of defense at safety. Although injuries limited him to only two regular season games, Robinson has a long way to go before he’s in the same conversation as the league’s top safeties, but he certainly hasn’t reached his potential, either. Jacques Washington’s play made many forget about the 27-year-old, and we also shouldn’t overlook the contributions of Oregon safety John Boyett in limited action at safety.

Antoine Pruneau, meanwhile, avoided a sophomore slump after an outstanding rookie season at strong-side linebacker. The University of Montreal product was picked on here and there, but didn’t emerge as much of a burden in coverage as expected with the league’s change to the illegal contact on a receiver rule. Ottawa ran far more man-coverage than any team in the league – a direct result of boasting an ultra-talented secondary – and Pruneau got more comfortable as the season wore on.

Winnipeg’s weak-link, Demond Washington, never did figure out how to cover receivers without drawing a flag. The departure of the four-year Bomber, who somehow earned a contract in free agency with Hamilton, truly was addition by subtraction at it’s finest. While not an official stat, Washington would have easily led the CFL in passing yards allowed – and that’s excluding his surely league-leading illegal contact/pass interference penalties against. If it weren’t for Washington’s dependable tacking abilities and his awareness in zone-coverage, he’d have been released at some point during the season. But Mike O’Shea is a man of second chances, and he surely wanted to give Washington every opportunity needed to adjust and adapt to the new zero-tolerance rules – he truly does have all the athleticism in the world to blanket receivers hands-off. Seeing as Washington never could get his game together at all, the Bombers really can’t get any worse with who they play at boundary halfback this year. And if training camp is any indication, the Bombers’ play in Washington’s vacated spot could be night and day compared to last season.

The Bombers have some extremely intriguing rookies that are living up to their football resumes in camp. It’s nearly impossible to rival Ottawa’s depth from last year, which won’t be nearly as good this year – Brandyn Thompson has all but officially retired; Jovon Johnson signed with Montreal; and Jacques Washington was released, partly influenced by Boyett’s emergence as well as the numbers game – but it’s hard not to envision several of Winnipeg’s rookie DB’s that’ll start the season as starers, designated imports or practice roster players making a large impact in 2016. The Bombers also have exceptional Canadian depth in the secondary, as Taylor Loffler is not far from being pro ready, while Teague Sherman and Derek Jones both have started games.

The Bombers have a couple starting positions available, but it’s not exactly clear where those positions are. Chris Randle, one of the league’s most underrated cover-men during his time as a corner, could slot in at boundary halfback or field-side corner depending on if the Bombers choose to roll with an All-American secondary. The safety position is not quite set in stone, as perhaps one of Winnipeg’s most exciting prospects, Johnny Patrick, could take Macho Harris’ starting spot, which is welcomed. A former third-round pick of the New Orleans Saints, Patrick had 27 NFL games under his belt before concussions forced him out of football.

Patrick’s ability to switch from corner to safety has certainly caught the attention of the coaching staff, but it’s been Kevin Fogg that has been earning more praise than any rookie defensive back at Blue Bombers training camp. With interceptions in both of the first two practices, the Liberty product, who seems to resemble Bruce Johnson with his outstanding change of direction skills, has received reps with the first-team unit at boundary halfback. Seeing as he’s earned those reps over some extremely talented football players in Julian Posey, Donald Celiscar and veteran defender Chris Randle, it’s not hard to envision Fogg bursting onto the scene and becoming Winnipeg’s 2016 version of Johnny Adams.

Fogg, of course, needs to have an outstanding rookie season before anyone even considers comparing his rookie year to Adams’ last year, as the University of Michigan State product completed his inaugural CFL season as a top-2 defensive back in the CFL with Ottawa’s Kanneh. Whereas Kanneh is an athlete, Adams is more of a technician, and his abilities gave the Bombers faith to run cover-6 coverage with Adams alone on the boundary using press-man techniques despite having deep-third responsibilities.

Adams’ abilities to take on more coverage responsibilities than perhaps any other defensive back in the league will only make the job’s of Bruce Johnson and Maurice Leggett even easier. The Bombers truly have an All-Canadian, elite trio in Adams, Johnson and Maurice Leggett – it’s true, a large majority of the DB’s I’d consider elite play in either Winnipeg or Ottawa. Johnson is one of the league’s most unappreciated players – his lack of interceptions has him flying under the radar – but he is certainly a top-3 player at the halfback position. Maurice Leggett, meanwhile, was the league’s best safety in 2014 before switching over to strong-side linebacker last year, where the coverage duties are nearly identical to that of a safety, but with slightly more man-coverage. Leggett should continue to be an elite player with the position change, as he showed many glimpses of even being a more physical upgrade over Chris Randle.

Randle, of course, moved from corner to SAM linebacker last season before tearing his ACL in the Labour Day Classic. Despite showing vast improvement as the weeks went by, it was clear that Randle wasn’t the same player when he had a receiver running full-steam ahead towards him before the ball was even snapped. One season removed from being the team’s coverage ace at boundary corner, the Bombers now insist on playing a rookie at Washington’s halfback spot instead of Randle – and it’s somewhat understandable with the level of talent the International scouting department has brought in.

Randle will instead compete at field-side corner with veteran Canadian incumbent Matt Bucknor. Randle’s more comfortable at corner, and having the former Utah State alum at field corner would simply be unfair to offenses – a player that good shouldn’t be playing field corner. While it’s possible Randle is a casualty of the ratio – despite very good Canadian talent, it would slightly complicate things elsewhere for the Bombers to have a designated import at defensive back without a Canadian starter at field corner – it will be an interesting battle to watch in training camp. Bucknor’s passport gives him the advantage, but the fifth-year Bomber has nonetheless had a great camp so far.

While a better tackler than coverage player, Bucknor still had a really solid 2o15 campaign. He’s going to get burned once in awhile – ask Kenny Stafford or Terance Toliver – but makes the needed plays when he can rely on his technique and not raw speed.

The Bombers have a plethora of options in the secondary, and with three elite players as well as Chris Randle to build around, the Bombers defensive backfield could reach new heights that perhaps not even Ottawa will see in 2016 if a couple of these young defenders – be it Fogg, Patrick or Posey – are as good as advertised.

And at the very least, with no Demond Washington, there’s no way this secondary can get worse. It’s only up from here, and from how the team is situated on paper, the sky truly is the limit for this group in 2016.