It’s better late than never as the two-time Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers finally kicked off training camp four days later than originally planned after the end of a brief players strike.
“I know how much everyone wanted to get out here and play football,” said linebacker Adam Bighill. “We’re at the point now, guys are out here doing what they love to do and what I love to do.”
Around 90 players were on the field for day one of main camp at the University of Manitoba campus. After practicing on their own with informal workouts the last few days during the work stoppage, players were put through a two-and-a-half hour workout.
Veterans Jackson Jeffcoat and Patrick Neufeld were both limited participants on the opening day of camp, but players are just happy to be back on the field to focus on football after the four-day strike.
“This is what I live for right here, football,” said receiver Nic Demski. “So to be able to come back out here with all the boys, my brothers. I’ve been here in Winnipeg this whole off-season, so, I’ve been like an anxious little puppy right here, just waiting around for all my boys to come in.”
“It feels really good to be back out here running around and it feels like we were just here,” said quarterback Zach Collaros. “Just another practice. A lot of new faces out there.
“Man, it just feels good to be throwing the football around and competing.”
There’s a lot of newcomers here to battle for jobs, but there’s also a lot of familiar faces with the Bombers retaining much of their championship roster after back-to-back Grey Cup wins. With an abundance of talent in camp, there’s no reason why they can’t make another run to a title, but it’s just the start of a long road to a possible three-peat.
“I feel like the sky is the limit,” Bighill said. “We got a lot of great guys that have been around here and won Grey Cups, and we brought a bunch of new, great guys into the fold. And it’s time to find out how everybody fits together.
“Every year is a new journey. And you got to go take it and earn it every single year, and that’s no different now. This is a building process. We haven’t done anything, so this where we need to come out, and continue to remember that, and earn it every day.”
While it was the first day of camp for the Bombers and six other CFL teams, it was day five for the two Alberta-based clubs. The Edmonton Elks and Calgary Stampeders held camp right through the work stoppage because they weren’t in a legal strike position due to local labour laws.
While many were crying foul, some on the Bombers don’t think it’ll make a shred of difference in the long run as players in Winnipeg had been practicing as team on their own without coaches.
“We’re not worried about that,” said Bighill. “Especially, we got a veteran crew, and we got a great group. And we work efficiently, so we’ll make up for anything that people that say we lost, but I’m not too worried about it all.”
“There’s always a sense or urgency with training camp,” Collaros said. “You see the first game on the schedule. You have it circled, it’s like, man, that’s not too far away.
“Missing four days isn’t ideal, but we have a veteran group of guys here, guys that have played ball together for a long time, and these four, five days that we haven’t been on the field, we’ve been meeting together.”
The Bombers were originally scheduled to open the pre-season on Monday, but that contest was pushed back by eight days so the Bombers will now open their exhibition schedule next Friday against the Edmonton Elks at IG Field.