WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ pass defence was a major letdown in 2017.
While they led the CFL in interceptions, the Bombers also surrendered the most passing yards in the league. Despite taking three of the five all-star spots in the secondary, the Bombers still gave up an average of 321 yards per game through the air, which ranked dead last in the CFL. But you won’t catch head coach Mike O’Shea pointing any fingers.
“We got a hundred takeaways in two years.” head coach Mike O’Shea said. “The most in the league easily. I don’t think they’re off track, so it’s nothing about getting on track. Every year’s approach like they’re a new group of guys, and they got to learn to communicate and play well together.”
But improving the secondary was clearly a priority for general manager Kyle Walters in the off-season as he went out and signed defensive backs Chandler Fenner, Anthony Gaitor, and Steven Clarke.
“I always bet on us, no matter what year, but I do like this group.” veteran defensive back Chris Randle said.
The defence has taken on an all new look in training camp. The recent signing of four-time CFL all-star linebacker Adam Bighill has some wondering if he was the missing ingredient.
“To get these additions and to add the pieces to the puzzle, it’s been a smile here and a smile there, but to get out here and do it, it’s all smiles the whole time.” Randle said. “Like Bighill was the huge addition, that, I think has changed our defence in a way we’re going about how we are prepared.”
“He’s the general, so the way he leads us out there on the field, I think we’re headed in the right direction to be a championship defence.”
When the season begins the Bombers could have two new faces in their starting linebacker unit. After the off-season departure of Sam Hurl, Bighill will line up down the middle. Fenner is expected to start at the strong side linebacker position while Maurice Leggett heals up from a torn achilles tendon. Jovan Santos-Knox has been getting the first team reps at the weak side linebacker spot and Kyrie Wilson is also in the mix.
“I believe in Santos-Knox, I believe in Kyrie as well.” Randle said. “I think those guys are proving they can make plays in this defence as well.”
“So with those three there holding it down, I think they can lead us to the promised land.”
Santos-Knox is headed into his sophomore season after taking over a starting job when Ian Wild went down with an injury last season. Improving his pass coverage was a big focus of his off-season training.
“You can never be too good in coverage, so just understanding the concepts and understanding what receivers do and how to relate to them and stuff like that is really good.” Santos-Knox said. “So I contacted C-Ran (Randle) this off-season and we just talked. I looked over the playbook and just saw where I had to fit better. Watch film and see, ‘Ok, this is where I should jump, this is where I shouldn’t jump’ and hopefully it’ll make me get a step faster to the ball and make more plays.”
But Randle won’t be satisfied if the defence is only adequate.
“I want us to lead the team.” Randle said. “I want them to rely on us. I want us to be able to control the game. I want us to be able to take that next step and become a championship defence. I think we can do it.”
WATCH: Raw Mike O’Shea Media Briefing – May 28