The General Manager of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers wanted to send a message. He wanted to show that the organization was not satisfied with a 5-13 record, that changes needed to be made.
If Monday’s free agent haul is any indication, Kyle Walters wasn’t messing around.
This year’s class includes Winnipeg-born running back Andrew Harris, all-star kicker Justin Medlock, former Riders receiver Ryan Smith and Canadian defensive tackle Kevin Shologan, along with special teamer Pascal Lochard, reserve offensive lineman Jeff Keeping and former Argo DT Euclid Cummings.
Only time will tell if the moves actually pay off. Walters sat on the same stage a year ago after a 7-11 season and promised improvements. They signed Darvin Adams, Stanley Bryant and Sam Hurl on the first day of free agency last year, but thanks to injury issues (especially at quarterback) the team sputtered.
“I’ve stood up here and said, between our scouting department finding players, drafting young Canadian players and developing them, and free agency, we need to figure out ways to put a winning product on the field for the people of Winnipeg,” Walters told the media Tuesday. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making players in that locker room uncomfortable. We expect these players to come in and raise the level of talent in this organization.”
The biggest name to become a Bomber on Monday would have to be Harris, the former BC Lions back who rushed for 1,039 yards last season. Walters said after talking with offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice, it was clear that Harris was their guy.
“We started talking about his vision about what he wanted his offence to look like and what kind of back he was looking for, and as he was describing it, it was Andrew Harris,” Walters explained. “Andrew is a very sharp guy. From a protection standpoint and route-running standpoint, he’s trustworthy. Versatility is key.”
The team looks better on paper, but Walters knows the Grey Cup isn’t won in February. He wasn’t willing to make any bold predictions, but did admit that the team still has some moves to make.
“I’ve said all along that there is going to be some tough decisions leading up, and I’m not going to speculate on players’ futures in this forum. We had a plan going in with the cap in mind and depending on how everything went down, it was planned out accordingly with the followup.”
Ryan Smith comes to the Bombers in much the same way that Weston Dressler did: born and raised in North Dakota, typecast as undersized, thriving in Regina before defecting to Winnipeg.
“I talked to Weston after he signed here and he was really excited about it. To be able to play with Weston again, I just learned so much playing with him, about this game and everything. He maybe influenced me a bit.”
The 5’7″, 175 pound receiver made 59 catches for 991 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Getting called small his whole life only serves to motivate him.
“I’ve always been taught that hard work is always going to pay off. It doesn’t matter what’s presented in front of my face, I’m going to persevere. I like to pride myself on my toughness.”
Smith admitted that it’s going to be weird the first time he takes on his former team in Regina, but stressed that he’s excited to be in Winnipeg.