When a team sits at 1-8 — their Week 1 starting quarterback on the shelf indefinitely with an undisclosed injury, an offence working to assimilate to a vastly different system from the NFL-style scheme that was shoehorned onto them, and a defence that continues to allow opposing quarterbacks to light them up — you might as well start from scratch.
“It's kind of a training camp mode,” said veteran Blue Bombers slotback Terrence Edwards. “I think they're trying to figure out who are the best five receivers, who's the best back, who's the best quarterback, who's the best group of offensive linemen. So it's kind of a training camp mode, but we're still doing it in the concept of a game week. And they've just got to evaluate people off practice and give them an opportunity to play and see how they do in the games.”
Since flipping the brass positions of president & CEO, general manager, and offensive coordinator over the last four weeks, the team appears much more open to make changes and experiment with talent positions on the field.
“We're always wheeling and dealing, so we'll see what we can come up with,” said head coach Tim Burke of the new organizational mindset. “We're always in constant communication with (other teams). Yes, it would never happen before.”
“You have to play well to keep your job. You know, just like we have to perform well to keep my job.”
And when things are going as poorly as they are in Winnipeg, buried deep in the East Division cellar at the midway point of the CFL season, changes are necessary.
“We had a tryout last week for a number of guys,” added Burke of a closed session the team held on Wednesday with an unnamed cornerback, safety, quarterback, and pair of defensive ends. “We're just trying to get the new guys like (Mike) Sims-Walker — we're trying to get them up to speed as fast as we can. And so we'll play him this week but in kind of a limited role because he doesn't know all of the offence. It gives us a chance to see what he can do and we think he can do some good things. Every week is a game week so we're treating it like a game week, and then we try to get extra meeting time with the new guys and try to indoctrinate them as best as we can. Get them as many reps as we can.”
“We've got our problems on both sides of the ball. I thought our offence played better last week, but then we didn't finish the fourth quarter. I thought defensively that we played well enough for about two-thirds of the game, but the other third wasn't good enough. We didn't have a very good pass rush, and then we didn't cover really well at times. Some of that's correctable. It wasn't that their guys were just beating our guys. We had technique mistakes, alignment mistakes. And all those little things add up. We can play better than what we've been playing on defence, and we've got to pay attention to the details or we'll have to do something.”
The team has brought in a plethora of new talent over the last couple weeks, including some NFL castoffs in safety/linebacker Aaron Rouse — who abruptly departed a day later because of an agreement he held with the team to be able to leave if an NFL opportunity arose — former Buffalo Bills backup quarterback Levi Brown, and the Jacksonville Jaguars' leading receiver in 2009, Mike Sims-Walker.
“I'm just learning the ins and outs of it,” said the 28-year-old Sims-Walker. “The coverage is different, the corners play a little different, of course the motions; just a lot of little things. It's not so much the big part of running routes and catching the ball, learning the scheme; it's more the little things.”
“We've got a lot of guys that can make plays. I don't know if it's just not clicking yet or what, but not only myself but a lot of receivers are trying to make some plays.”
Sims-Walker helps explain, at least from a receiver's perspective, some of the nuances and adjustments that need to be made when playing north of the border.
“In the Canadian league you've got to be more quick than fast. Just little things like that. I can't come out here and run full-speed routes because I'm used to being stationary and just going. Some things you've got to tempo and some things you've just got to calm down in, and you can't do it exactly how you're used to doing it. You've got to do it a little different.”
“I have to adjust my game to what's effective out here instead of what I'm used to.”
Sims-Walker will dress for his first CFL game in the tenth edition of the Banjo Bowl on Sunday.
Notes: Receiver Jade Etienne has been cleared to practice but not yet play after suffering a concussion in Regina. Rory Kohlert returns from a hamstring injury and will slot in for him... Second-year Bomber Will Ford will start at running back for Chad Simpson who returned from Miami, Fla., where his partner had a baby earlier this week, with a foot pain. Simpson saw doctors in Winnipeg on Thursday and Friday, but the team says there is no update on his status. It is the same foot that kept the tailback out for an extended period of time last season... The right side of the offensive line continues to be juggled as Paul Swiston moves to right tackle, Shannon Boatman to right guard... 2012 first-round draft pick Tyson Pencer made the 46-man roster this week, but he is expected to be a scratch come game time... Following their loss in the 50th Labour Day Classic in Regina, Burke said he needed to review the video before naming his starting quarterback for the annual Banjo Bowl rematch. He has decided to give Justin Goltz another go for his fourth career professional start.