Winnipeg Blue Bombers look to fill holes as camp opens
WINNIPEG – Maybe it’s third time lucky for linebacker Ejiro Kuale, who has bounced around a bit since he was released by the Toronto Argonauts after the 2012 season ended with their Grey Cup win.
As the Winnipeg Blue Bombers opened their main training camp Sunday, Kuale was one of the newcomers brought in to bolster a sagging defence that ranked overall where the Bombers finished 2013, in the CFL cellar with a league high 585 points against.
After brief stints in Montreal and Saskatchewan in 2013, Kuale is entering his fifth year in the CFL in Winnipeg, where the Bombers are now coached by former Toronto special teams co-ordinator Mike O’Shea.
The two have a lot of good things to say about each other.
“He understands what it’s like to be a player,” says Kuale, who played special teams in Toronto when O’Shea was there.
“He approaches the game differently from any of the coaches I’ve ever been around.”
The Bombers are in need of a middle linebacker after star Canadian Henoc Muamba jumped to the NFL and Kuale, six-foot-two, 238 pounds, is certainly a contender.
“There’s good competition at that middle linebacker spot but Kuale is, having coached him in Toronto, he’s a different type of player,” said O’Shea.
“He’s very physical. He’s always in great shape and he can be a leader, that sort of emotional type of leader for guys. He’s come in and he’s not let us down.”
For someone who will turn 31 in July, Kuale showed no ill effects Sunday from a four-and-a-half-hour practice in weather that wouldn’t have been out of place in his hometown of Daytona Beach, Fla.
“I feel great today although I should have brought my old cleats, my brand new cleats have my feet hurting a bit. . . I pulled a rookie move. I’m a vet, I should know better.”
Veteran offensive lineman Glenn January liked what he saw at camp. The O-line is another place the Bombers are looking to add talent.
“Everybody thinks they look good May 31 or June 1 but I think we’re looking pretty good,” said January, entering his eight season in the CFL and sixth with the Bombers.
After disappointing fans with as 3-15 season in 2013, January wasn’t getting too bold in his predictions.
“They should be expecting a better season than last year.”
But he says the labour dispute between the league and players isn’t getting in the way of business on the field.
“It’s Day 1, let’s focus on football.”
O’Shea agreed, saying he sees no signs the players have anything but playing football on their minds
The defence is coached this season by Gary Etcheverry, another favourite of O’Shea who is known for taking an unusual approach.
“We have to forget everything we’ve learned about football and buy into what coach Etch is trying to teach us,” says Kuale.
Defensive back Johnny Sears says it’s going to be unique and the kind of defence opposing teams may have a hard time preparing to battle.
“You can’t get a bead on it, it’s different,” he says.
“I might not be playing the position you see me playing today… The scouting report says `This guy plays here.’ Next week when they see us, I might play there for the first snap, who knows the rest of the game… I think that’s a good advantage for us.”
The first day of camp brought it’s share of injuries.
Former Detroit Lions running back Kevin Smith was sidelined with a hamstring pull when he jumped to make a catch early in practice. Canadian wide receiver Jordan Brescacin also had a hamstring injury.
Canadian linebacker Jesse Briggs was favouring an arm but O’Shea said they didn’t have a report on what might have happened.
Offensive lineman Paul Swiston wasn’t on the field and is still recovering from off-season surgery, said the coach. Defensive lineman Willie Moseley is expected to return in a couple of days from a muscle strain.
© The Canadian Press, 2014