CIS-Con: Winnipeg Blue Bombers' hiring of Craig Smith seen as step in right direction

(Over the next few days, this blog will do its best to give a rundown on how CIS alumni figure into the grand scheme for each CFL team. Friendly reminder: the ratio in the CFL requires each team to have seven 'nationals' among the 24 defensive and offensive starters. It should be 10, five on each side of the ball, but one battle at a time ... one battle at a time.)

When a franchise has been out of the playoffs four seasons in a row, there are are systemic problems. Well, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have at least addressed one by adding Craig Smith to their scouting department. Smith's tenure in Saskatchewan coincided with the Roughriders' time on top of the league, but he was swept aside when Chris Jones' staff took over in December.

So there is that. Winnipeg shares a stadium with a strong Canada West team, the Manitoba Bisons, who have 12 alumni in the league. Coach Michael O'Shea and GM Kyle Walters are each Guelph football alumni. One would have thought that would create a homing instinct to get an inside track on acquiring Canadian-trained players.

As far the season goes, Johnny Adams and Andrew Harris are already banged-up. The only big game Investors Group Field will likely host after the autumn solistice will come when the Winnipeg Jets host a Heritage Classic in mid-October. Winnipeg is going to get better, though.

And if The Simpsons dialogue that just popped into your head was Lisa saying, "What are you basing that on?" and Marge diverting attention with, "Who wants ginger snaps?", reward yourself for being so meta. Preferably with a healthy snack, not ginger snaps.

Receivers / backs — Having Winnipeg-raised Harris, he of the 1,527 receiving-rushing yards last season, creates a need for a Canadian backup. Pascal Lochard (Laval) fills the role of running back by trade who work into two-back sets and play special teams. Christophe Normand (Laval) is the lone active Bomber listed at fullback.

Out wide, perhaps I did not watch enough Winnipeg games last season, but it feels like Kris Bastien (Concordia), Julian Feoli-Gudino (Laval) and Rory Kohlert (Saskatchewan) are three types of the same wide receiver. All three are between 6-foot and 6-3, 206 and 213 pounds, and in the second half of their twenties.

Addison Richards (Regina) is bigger (6-4, 221) and has greater upside than the three older national wideouts. Richards is on the injured list.

Venerable Winnipeg play-by-player Bob (Knuckles) Irving will not have any issue distinguishing Nos. 81, 83 and 87. Mere mortals might struggle with that, and distinguishing between Weston Dressler and Ryan Smith when both waggle out as slotbacks.

Offensive line — Any dedicated fan of O-line play gets an little endorphin high when Patrick Neufeld (Saskatchewan) gets singled out for doing good work, since he is among the few, the proud starting Canadian tackles in the league. Neufeld and guard Sukh Chungh (Calgary) form an all-Canadian right side.

One hates to keep playing the 'woebegone Winnipeg' card, but 11-year veteran centre Jeff Keeping (Western) is out eight weeks with a knee injury after being a big free-agent add. Third-year Matthias Goossen (Simon Fraser, NCAA D-2) has drawn in at centre after making 10 starts in '15.

Defensive front sevenKeith Shologan in the interior and Jamaal Westerman with his 17-sack season at rush end addresses a lot of national-starter needs. It goes without saying that it is better to draft and develop that than pay for past performance come free-agency time in Februrary, but hey, I would have also preferred to have not been born a redhead.

Jake Thomas (Acadia) is the next national up at D-tackle. Jesse Briggs (McGill) and Shayne Gauthier (Laval) are the depth 'backers. That is apparently not the same as being a DB.

Defensive secondary Teague Sherman (Manitoba) has a prized skill-set that allows him to cover several spots in the back eight. Taylor Loffler (UBC) cracked the roster as a big-bodied safety (6-4, 220) who can contribute on special teams. Stay observation: Loffler is a 24-year-old rookie, but fellow CIS grad Brendan Morgan (Queen's) is in his second season and is still only 22. Derek Jones (Simon Fraser, CIS/NCAA D-2), a second-generation CFL D-back, likely is the odd one out if Winnipeg is able to have an all-internationals secondary.

Specialists — Long snapper Chad Rempel (Saskatchewan) is hiking the ball to Justin Medlock (well, actually his holder) and punter Sergio Castillo. Two international spots used on foot-to-ballers? That just seems odd.
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