It doesn’t matter whether or not the Winnipeg Blue Bombers end up in the Grey Cup this season, or win it for that matter; to many people this has been a successful season that still has more excitement coming.
This is a team that finished the 2010 campaign at the bottom of the league after a 4-14 record. This is a team that after acquiring a marquee quarterback in Buck Pierce was only able to get five productive games out of him.
Through a lot of the negativity that surrounded this team a year ago, many fans would have called for heads to roll if the top brass didn’t make changes.
Heading into the offseason, there were very little if any changes to the lineup and they entered the 2011 season with their roster relatively intact. The fans thank them for that.
While on the offensive side of the ball has seen a small amount of production with Buck Pierce behind center, Winnipeg are still 10-6 and first in the Eastern division after 17 weeks, thanks in large part to their defense.
This became Buck Pierce’s team in the offseason after quarterback Steven Jyles was traded to Toronto for future draft pick considerations. Since then, Buck Pierce has started 15 games through a career that saw limited action and has put together his most passing yards under 3,534 behind his best career percentage.
He has a 1,000 yard receiver and clutch player in Terrence Edwards but what was missing last year in terms of options, he has gained this year with sophomore receiver Clarence Denmark and Greg Carr.
You also can’t forget the contributions that Cory Watson and Terence Jeffers-Harris have made, although Jeffers-Harris has been a healthy scratch for quite some time.
For sure, there were times the offense had the better game or contributed their part to the three phases of the game but for the better part of the season, they have had their share of struggles.
And don’t take it as a slight on head coach Paul LaPolice, who certainly makes a lot of the tough calls behind the scenes, but it’s expected of a second-year coach. Those mistakes will be re-evaluated and corrected moving forward.
On the defensive side, defensive coordinator Tim Burke has his side playing a relentless, never give up style of football that has seen many players grow into starters.
Tim Burke joined the football club in the offseason and has molded a semi-good squad into one of the best defensive units in the league.
Currently holding the top two players in interceptions–Jovon Johnson and Jonathan Hefney–the club also has the previous sack leader in Odell Willis.
Other players who have stepped in and filled voids around the defense have been defensive ends Jason Vega and Kenny Mainor. Then you look at what defensive tackle Bryant Turner has done and it just adds to the talent pool that has been brought in.
The club itself has seen their sixth straight sell-out and will move into a brand new stadium before next season’s kick-off.
This is all after the team succumbed a year ago, finishing last and owning the league’s worst record. This was a team picked to repeat the same disaster but who have bonded together and faced adversity not once but many times along the way.
The team came out strong and started the season at a league’s best 7-1 before falling off their path but Paul LaPolice has kept his squad intact for the most part and brings out the best in his players.
An unfortunate and untimely injury to running back Fred Reid, who was looking to retain his rushing title from just a year ago, ended his season early and losing Carl Volny would make things worse for most teams.
But under a team guided by Paul LaPolice and Joe Mack there was no question that the next man to step up would be Chris Garrett, who has done nothing but showcase his talents and keep the running game afloat.
Nobody can coach a perfect season, it’s impossible, but what Paul LaPolice has done with this squad over the last two months to keep them competitive and in the running for the title certainly cannot go unnoticed.
The talent that has been brought in over the course of the offseason has paid dividends for Paul LaPolice and Joe Mack.
For a team that hasn’t seen the Eastern Final since 2007 and have missed the playoffs since 2008, there is still a lot of excitement as the team closes in on making another return to the big game.
This is a relatively young squad that still has a lot of potential to be tapped but if this is what we’re shown after just two years, I, for one, cannot wait to see what the future holds.