WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will open their rookie camp Wednesday evening, the same day talks resume between the CFL and the players to avert a possible strike.
It’s just a coincidence and camp was planned for that evening a long time ago, says Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea, who added Tuesday that he’s prohibited from saying anything about the contract dispute.
But he’s expecting about 45 players to attend his rookie camp for evaluation and has already seen a lot of them at a mini-camp the team held earlier this year in Florida.
“They’ve had a great start from Florida and that’s part of the planning process, to use it to find guys that can help our roster and give them the opportunity to come in prepared to compete,” he says.
It gives both coaching coaching staff and players a better chance for a proper evaluation period since they’ve had that advance exposure to the Bombers and CFL football.
“Not (coming in) cold and, you know, only have 10 days of practising or 12 days of practising, whatever it works out to, to try and win a job, to try and make our team better. These guys, they’ve got a real opportunity and they’re very prepared.”
Nor is O’Shea expecting the labour dispute to cast a shadow over camp.
“The players that are going to be here want to play. They want to work. They really love football. . . We ve tried to assemble good character guys that love to play the game.”
O’Shea is a rookie himself as a CFL head coach and is anxious to get the season under way. The former Toronto Argonauts special teams co-ordinator was hired as the Bombers cleaned house last season when they finished in the CFL cellar at 3-15.
He insists he isn’t having any butterflies of his own as he prepares for his first season as a CFL head coach.
“I’m very pleased with the way I’m feeling about it all. It’s good, I’m fired up,” he said.
The Bombers play their first exhibition game June 9 when the Toronto Argonauts visit Investors Group Field to kick off the 2014 CFL pre-season. The Argos also visit Winnipeg to open the CFL’s regular season June 26.
This is the second season for the team’s new stadium, with a price tag that has now easily topped $200 million thanks to repairs and modifications — including the enclosure of an unheated, open pressbox needed before Winnipeg could host the 2015 Grey Cup.
Transportation issues have also plagued the stadium, located on the campus of the University of Manitoba, and the Bombers learned Tuesday that Winnipeg City Council had turned down a proposal to cut the club a better deal on dedicated buses.
A lot of playing jobs may be up for grabs this year but one has already been filled — starting quarterback — by former Saskatchewan Roughriders backup Drew Willy. O’Shea said long ago that Willy isn’t competing for the job with other quarterbacks coming to camp.
The team added yet another pivot to their camp lineup Tuesday when they said University of Manitoba Bisons Jordan Yantz had been invited. The 24-year-old Regina native led the CIS with his 25 touchdown passes last season and led his conference with his 2,474 passing yards.
The Bombers and Bisons share the stadium. Current Bomber president Wade Miller is also a Winnipeg native who played four years with the Bisons as a linebacker before moving to fullback with the Bombers.
The Bombers’ main camp will open Sunday, if the players don’t strike.