Thursday marks the beginning of another season for the Blue and Gold who will look to end their Grey Cup drought which is now 19 agonizing years long. Last year the Bombers were expected to repeat as Grey Cup finalists having come just short in 07. If last season was full of expectation this season is full of question marks and unpredictability. The Bombers went through a full makeover this off-season and Mike Kelly's team will have alot of questions to answer as they begin the 2009 campaign. Here is a closer look at the 2009 edition of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Last Season- 8-10, 2nd place in East, lost in East Semi-Final
Head Coach- Mike Kelly, first season
New additions- QB Stefan Lefors, DE Fred Perry, LB Siddeeq Shabazz, LB Shawn Gallant, DT Tyronne Williams, DE Riall Johnson, WR Brock Ralph, OL Glenn January, OL Luke Fritz, OL Steve Morley, CB James Johnson, RB Lavarus Giles, RB Yvenson Bernard, WR Adrius Bowman, LB Jonathan Hefny
Key losses- SB Milt Stegall, QB Kevin Glenn, RB Joe Smith, Ol Dan Goodspeed, OL Alexandre Gauthier, OL Dominic Picard, CB Kelly Malveaux, DB Anthony Malbrough, DE Kai Ellis, DE Tom Canada, DB Stanford Samuels, Dl Jerome Haywood, SB Jamie Stoddard, Lb Zeke Moreno, LB Cam Hall, OL Matt Sheridan
Players to watch- The Key to success for the Blue Bombers will depend on how well Stefan Lefors responds to prime time. Having very little game time as a backup with the Eskimos does the former Carolina Panthers draft pick have what it takes to be a starting quarterback in the CFL? With a virtually brand new offensive line Lefors could see alot of pressure his way and will have to be sharp if the Bombers want to erase last year's disappointing season from their memories. Fred Reid in the backfield will be a featured part in the offence after having made his mark last season when the team traded Charles Roberts to BC. With Joe Smith's release he is unquestionably the featured back and will be counted upon to put up all-star type numbers like he did last year in a half a season's work.
Team strengths: The Bombers can count on a solid and dependable receiving corps despite the retirement of legend Milt Stegall. Terrence Edwards, Derrick Armstrong, and Romby Bryant bring explosiveness and consistency to the aerial attack that boasted 3 thousand yard receivers last season. Canadians Arjei Franklin and Brock Ralph are solid and dependable and should help give Lefors plenty of support when throwing the football. On the other side of the ball the Defensive line should be solid as usual anchored by Doug Brown who has shown no signs of slowing up as he approaches 35 years of age. Tyronne Williams and Fred Perry are dependable d lineman who will only bolster veterans Doug Brown and Gavin Walls on the Defensive line.
Team Weaknesses: The Bombers secondary should be a real cause for concern as usual. Last year they gave up 304.1 yards passing per game the third worst in the entire league. With the departure of all-star cornerback Kelly Malveaux they will need to rely on a great pass rush to take the pressure off the secondary that is depleted and a definite area of weakness. Newcomer James Johnson will need to come up big for the Bombers, a big year from him could help ease the pain he caused Bomber fans in the 07 Grey Cup while with Saskatchewan. The Special teams game and more specifically the kicking game is a huge area for concern as rookie Alexis Serna was unpredictable all season and will need to show the consistency he had down the stretch last season.
Final Outlook: Like most teams in the East Division it is hard to predict where the Bombers will finish at the end of this season. Their are alot of area's they will excel in however they may struggle mightily in alot of other facets. With no established quarterback Lefors will need to silence the critics if they are to have any success. The good news for Winnipeg is that aside from the Alouettes no one knows what to expect in the East with the Ti-Cats, and Argos going through extreme transformations as well. In the end I expect the Alouettes to take the division with the Bombers, Ti-Cats and Argos battling it out for second and third. It will not be pretty but I do expect the Bombers the make the playoffs, anything after that is anybody's guess.