With a high level of competition in training camp, as well as multiple legitimate candidates at each of the few position openings in camp, the Bombers were expected to make headlines across the league in the final round of cuts. Having released Canadian defensive back Matt Bucknor, international left guard/right tackle Jace Daniels and receiver/returner Justin Veltung, they did exactly that – which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Also released was receivers Julian Talley and Fred Williams; running back Carlos Anderson; right guard Zachary Intzandt, the Bombers’ fifth-round pick; defensive lineman Emmanuel Dieke; and defensive back Jonte Green.
Bucknor, of course, was the most notable release of the day, having really established himself as a serviceable, Canadian field-side corner in two years with the Blue & Gold. Bucknor, 31, never failed to miss a game during his tenure, starting in all 36 games in 2014 and 2015. While he was never a great cover-man, Bucknor’s run-support skills and ability to read and react to quarterback’s eyes made the Hamilton native a valuable asset to the secondary.
But as a result of Maurice Leggett moving to strong-side linebacker as well as with Johnny Adams establishing himself as one of the best boundary corner-backs in the league, Bucknor found himself in a training camp showdown with premiere defender Chris Randle, who wouldn’t typically be competing for a job at field corner on most teams. The Bombers have gained a lot of ratio flexibility recently, which ultimately made Bucknor’s passport less relevant in the competition. Randle, who’s ill-suited to play halfback despite being one of the league’s better corner-backs, had a tremendous preseason, winning his match-up with Duron Carter in the opening preseason game and allowing just one catch on four targets, including two knockdowns, in game no. 2 at Ottawa.
The Bombers could have kept Bucknor on the roster as a special-teamer, but it seems as though, while unintentional, they’ve already assembled his succession plan. In all three of his drafts since taking over the General Manager posting, Kyle Walters has continuously invested high draft picks in Canadian defensive backs – Taylor Loffer, Brendan Morgan and Derek Jones were all top-20 picks in the 2016, 2015 and 2014 drafts. Veteran Canadian safety Teague Sherman, meanwhile, is as good of a depth Canadian safety/special-teamer as they come, essentially making it unnecessary for the club to retain Bucknor at his current salary.
The Bombers’ decision to cut ties with Jace Daniels may have also been a surprise to some, but it didn’t blindside me in the least bit. Daniels, as expected, underwhelmed in two games at left guard, most noticeably struggling to pick up basic of stunts from defensive lines, which also plagued him as a right tackle in 2015. While Daniels was far from great during his tenure in Winnipeg, it was more likely the play of his competition at left guard that influenced the front-office’s decision to release him more than anything.
Travis Bond and Jamarcus Hardrick were simply phenomenal in preseason action. Sitting out of the Ottawa game while nursing an injury, Bond may have to start the season as either the club’s sixth offensive lineman or on the 1-game injury list pending the extent of his injury. (Although Michael Couture is simply nowhere near ready for such a role, ratio implications could force the SFU product could onto the active roster prematurely). Bond was the best player, offensively and defensively, on the field against Montreal, displaying sound fundamentals to go along with incredible athleticism for a man carrying a 6-foot-6, 330-pound frame. And while I’d like to see Bond start at left guard, Hardrick has certainly made a case for himself (and he played in both preseason games). A veteran of 18 career starts in the CFL, the former Saskatchewan Roughrider, who’s the most energetic offensive lineman I’ve ever watched, is best-known as an absolute mauler in the run game. Evidently, both Bond and Daniels are upgrades over Daniels, and the Bombers simply needed change after allowing 59 sacks in 2015.
The rest of the Bombers’ cuts were rather unsurprising. Carlos Anderson and Justin Veltung, who’ll likely get an opportunity with another club soon, lost the returner duties to Quincy McDuffie, while RG Zachary Intzandt only has two years of playing offensive lineman under his belt, and will return to McMaster to gain experience.
The Bombers also assigned nine players to their practice roster, including Canadian defensive end Louie Richardson; veteran fullback Tim Cronk; running back Tim Flanders; receivers Thomas Mayo and Gerrard Shephard; defensive lineman Padric Scott (3-tech) and Adrian Hubbard (DE); offensive tackle Manase Foketi; and defensive back CJ Roberts.
Richardson, 30, moves to the practice roster after five years of experience in the CFL. Knowing the Bombers had an excess of Canadians on the roster, I mentioned in my pre-training camp roster projection that the Bombers likely didn’t have room to carry three Canadian defensive ends. With ninth-overall pick Trent Corney coming along very fast – he’ll see significant reps on defense – the Bombers did as expected.
Another veteran Canadian, Tim Cronk also accepted a spot on the practice roster after six years in the CFL, and this move surprises me. While I understand the Bombers’ intentions to fit more Canadians onto the roster in other positions instead of carrying two fullbacks plus a backup running back/depth fullback, I’m not sure that either Chris Normand or Pascal Lochard are ready to be primary fullbacks. Paul Lapolice’s system likely won’t involve Normand in many packages, but if the club is going to keep only one fullback, I’d prefer to see Normand on the practice roster and Cronk on the field.
The Bombers also surprised many with the decision to place international defensive end Adrian Hubbard on the practice roster. This move did slightly catch me by surprise, but under no circumstances is it shocking. Simply put, both Hubbard and Shayon Green were extremely disappointing in preseason action. Hubbard, who led the Alabama Crimson Tide in sacks in his sophomore and junior seasons, significantly lacks quickness – watching him get off the line of scrimmage is an eye-sore. Green’s athleticism, meanwhile, is off the charts, but he appears very one-dimensional as a pass-rusher, and struggled to maintain the edge as a run defender, an area where Hubbard was quite good, actually.
While Hubbard is much more of a technician than Green, both ultimately struggled in the preseason, and the Bombers likely went with Green in hopes of improving the athletic player’s technique – you can teach an athlete technique, but you can’t teach athleticism to a strict technician. Regardless, unless former Tiger-Cat Sam Scott impresses once back from injury, I maintain that Trent Corney will take over the starting duties opposite Jamaal Westerman at some point during his rookie campaign.
Taylor Loffler, seen as one of the most pro-ready prospects in the 2016 draft class, also boasts the abilities to be impactful from the get-go, but Corney will undoubtedly be the club’s top first-year Canadian in year one. The club has released it’s final four draft picks from May – SB Alex Vitt, NT Rupert Butcher, LB Frank Renaud and the aforementioned Intzandt – as well as LB John Rush, who led the CIS in tackles last season while at Guelph after going undrafted due to a knee injury. Butcher (Western), Intzandt (McMaster) and Renaud (Windsor) all have one season of CIS eligibility, I believe. They should each rejoin the club for training camp next season after completing their collegiate careers.