WINNIPEG – If a labour dispute does derail the start of the CFL season, new Winnipeg Blue Bomber quarterback Drew Willy says he’s “100 per cent behind the players” and knows just what to do.
He was with the New York Jets in 2011 when the NFL locked out their players after they failed to agree on a new contract. Willy went undrafted but was given a look by four NFL teams before heading north.
“If there was something to happen, I’d make sure we were getting the guys together in Winnipeg … getting our work in, obviously not in the building but somewhere around Winnipeg,” he said Wednesday as the Blue Bombers’ rookie camp got under way.
That’s what quarterback Mark Sanchez did with the Jets during the four-month NFL lockout in 2011.
“Whoever’s in the area, we’ll make sure we get all the leaders, a lot of guys that are in the area.”
Not that Willy, 27, is looking forward to running a makeshift camp as he prepares to take the field for the first time as a starting quarterback in the CFL, after spending two seasons as a backup with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“Being a first-time starter, I need all the reps I can get but also I understand it is a business and I back the players,” he said.
Things still remained very much up in the air Wednesday as the clock ticked down and talks resumed. The collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players ends Thursday at midnight ET, and a possible strike looms before the start of main camp Sunday.
Willy said he was looking forward to throwing his first passes as a Blue Bomber on Investors Group Field as rookie camp got rolling Wednesday evening.
“Quarterbacks, we don’t get hit in practice, so I’ve always loved practice.”
He had already spent a couple of days in the team’s quarterback school with the Bombers other three pivots, Robert Marve, Brian Brohm and Max Hall, the only active quarterback from last season the team elected to keep on their roster. Brohm was signed last season but went straight to the injured list.
Hall took over mid-season and finished as Winnipeg’s most consistent quarterback in 2013, starting nine of Winnipeg’s 12 final games. But the team still floundered and finished at 3-15 in the CFL cellar.
Offensive co-ordinator Marcel Bellefeuille is also back after taking over last August when Gary Crowton was sacked, and he has been putting the team’s quarterbacks though their paces.
“We pretty much started with what coach Bellefeuille expects from us as a unit, as individuals. Just mentally doing the right things, watching a lot of film,” said Willy.
“You get towards the installation period where we put in different aspects of the offence.”
The one good thing that came out of last season was the ability to pick second in the CFL draft (behind expansion Ottawa, which traded its pick to Calgary), and the Bombers also announced Wednesday that they had signed their top 2014 pick, offensive lineman Matthias Goossen.
The team is hoping Goossen might even be able to start this season, perhaps at centre. The six-foot-four, 294-pound lineman was a conference all-star the past two seasons at Simon Fraser and was also on the world team that defeated the U.S. for the first time ever at the 2012 IFAF International Bowl.
After his first practice Wednesday, Goossen said it was exciting, tiring and also the first time the Vancouver-area native has lived away from home. He’s bunking in a University of Manitoba dorm.
“You only have one first practice and it was a lot of fun, very fast and very physical,” he said after lining up at centre, although he said he isn’t necessarily counting on winning that spot.
“I’m just trying to do my best every day. I’m going to try and get better and contribute to the team in any way possible.”
Coach Mike O’Shea was happy Goossen made it for the start of camp and sounded a lot more positive about his chances.
“We drafted him at that spot for a reason because we like him a lot,” said O’Shea. “He’s going to be just fine.”
The Bombers are hanging a lot on Willy’s shoulders as they prepare for their second season in a new $200-million-plus stadium that carries a hefty mortgage they must pay. But Willy isn’t short on confidence.
“I’ve been around some good coaches and players. I just need to take everything I’ve learned here and there, put it all together and go out there,” he said.
© The Canadian Press, 2014