It has the look of training camp at Investors Group Field as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers try out new prospects to help turn around their disappointing season.
On Wednesday, there were five quarterbacks throwing passes, including newly signed Levi Brown, who spent last season with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The day before, the Bombers (1-8) looked at some defensive players in a private, closed practice.
“He (Brown) was recommended highly to us so we thought we’d bring him in and take a look at him,” said Bombers coach Tim Burke. “Depending on what happens with our quarterbacks, you know if somebody gets hurt, he’s there for us.
“If nobody gets hurt, then potentially send him back home and bring him back.”
Brown was a 2010 seventh-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills. He saw action in the NFL club’s final regular-season game as a rookie, completing two-of-three passes for 24 yards.
The 26-year-old from Mount Juliet, Tenn., spent the following season on the Bills’ practice roster before getting a tryout with the Roughriders.
“It’s always good to get another shot,” Brown said after practice. “It didn’t work out for me in Saskatchewan so I’m glad to be here Winnipeg.”
Burke said Brown worked out for the Bombers on Tuesday along with the defensive players.
“We had five guys, worked them out,” he said. “We had one corner, one free safety/Will-type guy, two defensive ends and then Levi.
“We look to sign one or two of those guys here.”
Burke has said if Winnipeg’s secondary doesn’t improve its play, changes will be made. In particular, he’s targeted the unit’s failure to cope well with man coverage.
Burke made it clear Wednesday he’s talking more about veterans and not rookies, who he is cutting more slack to following Winnipeg’s 48-25 loss to Saskatchewan (8-1) on Sunday.
“I was very critical of the secondary after the game and after watching the video,” he said. “The guys that I’m not happy about are the veteran guys who make big mistakes.”
Defensive back Demond Washington, a first-year starter, said members of the Bombers’ secondary have heard Burke’s message.
“Any time you get negative attention from anyone you’re not going to like it but at the same time we’ve got to step up to the challenge,” he said. “We’ve got to get it done.
“We can’t make excuses.”
Winnipeg is also looking for help on its offensive line with veteran tackle Andre Douglas out for an extended period due to injury. On Thursday, the Bombers are expected to announced the signing of Colt Schulte, a six-foot-six, 295-pound offensive lineman from Missouri Western.
“That’s the rumour, yes,” was all Burke would say even though Schulte was seen at Investors Group Field.
Quarterback Justin Goltz will start again against Saskatchewan. Goltz was 18-of-29 passing for 182 yards and two interceptions Sunday but also ran five times for 73 yards and two TDs. Burke said while Goltz made some mistakes, he saw growth in the 26-year-old quarterback.
“I think we all felt Justin played extremely well for the first three quarters,” Burke said.
Winnipeg trailed Saskatchewan by six points with eight minutes remaining Sunday before the Riders took control of the game with two interceptions and a blocked punt.
Burke says some of the improvement Goltz has made is due to the changes new offensive co-ordinator Marcel Bellefeuille has implemented.
“His reads are easier and they occur earlier in the play so Justin has a chance to get his feet set earlier than before,” said Burke. “He can make plays with his feet and that’s always positive in the CFL so we’ve decided to go with him for another week.”
One element of Goltz’s play Sunday that Burke didn’t like was the quarterback’s touchdown celebrations. Goltz was criticized, especially in Regina, for pretending to adjust his tie after scoring and also appeared to mimic the post-TD celebration of Saskatchewan tailback Kory Sheets.
Burke doesn’t like individual showboating and says players should celebrate with their teammates.
At the same time Burke defended Goltz, suggesting the Saskatchewan media has blown the matter out of proportion and that some of Riders’ exuberant fans weren’t exactly shrinking violets Sunday.
“It’s the pot calling the kettle black,” he said.
Goltz said he’ll heed his coach’s words and no longer have a TD celebration.
“The CFL’s a league where guys celebrate touchdowns,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be a big deal if I did as well.”
Winnipeg’s injured list now includes slotback Aaron Woods but receiver Jade Etienne has been cleared to practise after showing symptoms of a concussion.
Burke said despite the huge difference in the two teams’ won-lost records, he feels good about Winnipeg’s chances Sunday.
“I expect a very good game this week,” he said. “I just feel it.”