Blue Review: Day One of Mini-Camp

Football is back, baby!

The Bombers hit the field for the first time in 2016 for their offensive mini-camp. Here are some observations after our first look at the new-and-improved 2016 Blue Bombers.

1. The first thing that stuck out to me was just how animated newly-hired offensive coordinator Paul Lapolice was. Everyone in the stadium could hear him coaching loud and clear, as Lapolice, who’s clearly excited to be back coaching after three seasons, was vocal, animated and full of enthusiasm. Lapolice, still young at 45-years-old, was even demonstrating drills himself – he doubles as receivers coach – and I wouldn’t be shocked if he ended up losing his voice after two hour-long practices today. The Bombers were up-tempo all practice, maximizing the short amount of practice time.

2. The Bombers had installed a handful of basic plays – no more than seven – which they ran through today as a unit after some quick individual work. It was all three-step, short route combinations, for the most part, as well as some reverse and ghost-motion misdirection runs, and basic zone runs. The quarterbacks and receivers worked a lot on bubble screens in individual time as well as in team, which Lapolice could be rely on this season, similarly to the Eskimos in 2015. The quarterbacks were getting the ball out their hands early today with a lot of quick throws being called.

3. Back under center after recovering from a season-ending knee injury, Drew Willy didn’t have his best day throwing the football, at least in the second session. His accuracy was relatively erratic at some points, and the ball hung in the air on a couple deep throws – there was a breeze, though. Of course, this is nothing to be worried about. Willy’s knee is 100% healed up, and it’s exciting to see no. 5 back at the controls.

4. Even though arm strength/accuracy is only one piece of the puzzle, it’s always interesting – but totally pointless – to compare the quarterback’s arms to each other. Last training camp, it was Robert Marve clearly dominated this power ranking, followed by Jordan Yantz, Josh Portis, Willy and then Brian Brohm. Who throws the best ball out of this year’s signal-callers? To me, it’s unquestionably Dominique Davis, followed by a close tie between Brian Bennett and Drew Willy, and then Matt Nichols.

5. Former Baylor receiver Ernest Smith, who was signed last week, worked with the “starters” today at the Y-position, formerly occupied by Julian Feoli-Gudino. Smith has been out of football for a long time, but at six-foot-five and 210-lbs, he brings some much-needed size to the Bombers’ aerial attack.

6. It’s quite possible that Smith was moved into a role with group one as a result of Jerrell Jernigan being a no-show. According to Ed Tait, Jernigan (5’9″, 189-lbs) did touch down in Winnipeg but had to return home for family reasons. Here’s to hoping the Troy alum, who spent four seasons with the New York Giants after being drafted in the third round, shows up to main camp, as he’s certainly is a promising player. In 2013, Jernigan recorded 19 catches in 3 games while Victor Cruz sat out with an injury.

7. Weston Dressler received the majority of his snaps at boundary wide-receiver, as Darvin Adams moved into Clarence Denmark’s vacated slot-back position. Ryan Smith was in Nick Moore’s boundary slot-back position – looking explosive there, too – and Rory Kohlert was at his regular position at field-side wide receiver. Second-year player Spencer Davis lined up at boundary slot-back on the second-team, with Quincy McDuffie, Ricky Collins and Julian Talley in the slot, and Kris Bastien out wide. On the third team, Larry Pinkard manned the boundary at wideout, while Julian Feoli-Gudino, Jhomo Gordon and Soloman Patton worked the slot, with Justin Veltung out a field-side wide receiver. Take all this with a grain of salt, as it’s only the first day of mini-camp, and there’ll be many changes to the groupings by as early as tomorrow.

8. The club seems serious about starting Patrick Neufeld at right tackle this season. And while I feel as though the club should exhaust all their options with American rookies at right tackle, I am not against the idea of Neufeld playing there. Although he’s about a middle-tier right tackle at his best – and a below-average player at guard – that is a significant upgrade over Jace Daniels and Selvish Capers. Daniels, who is still recovering from off-season ankle surgery, will compete at left guard should Neufeld remain a book-end. Lawrence Martin took the first-team reps at left guard today, while Manase Foketi worked with the two’s.

9. The favorite to win that job at left guard in training camp might just be Jamarcus Hardrick, however. Hardrick, who spent 2015 with Saskatchewan, is a natural right tackle, but he’s a mauler in the run-game. A powerful technician, I always thought his footwork was too questionable to play tackle, and unsurprisingly, the Bombers had him taking second-team reps at right guard behind Sukh Chungh today. It could only be a matter of time before he sees reps at the vacated left guard position.

10. The updated helmets with the royal blue face-masks are still as sharp as ever, and are now full-time. The team still practiced with the old Reebok practice jerseys, but we can expect that to change in time for training camp when the club’s new digs are unveiled.

11. It was simply mind-blowing to see Weston Dressler, Ryan Smith and Andrew Harris in the Blue & Gold, which, let me add, looks much better on them than any other color combination.

12. Practice tomorrow is once again scheduled for 10:30am and 12:30pm at Investors Group Field.

willlly
Ruth Bonneville/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

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