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About "ken-wiebe"

Ken Wiebe is a sports writer with the Winnipeg Sun and has been since August of 2000. He's covered the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League for more than a decade, but is comfortable covering sports on any surface. Born in Brandon and raised in Altona, he now resides in St. Vital. He got his start in the newspaper business at the Red River Valley Echo and is a graduate of the University of Regina's journalism program.

Blue Bombers fall to 1-5 with 27-20 loss to Lions

- August 6th, 2013

VANCOUVER — The Winnipeg Blue Bombers bye week is officially underway and as the team touched down in Winnipeg after losing 27-20 to the B.C. Lions, Sun columnist Paul Friesen found out CEO Garth Buchko was heading out on a family vacation.

So there will be no emergency board meetings and those calling for the firing of GM Joe Mack are obviously going to have to wait — at least for the time being.

But the whispers are not going to go away until the Blue Bombers start putting up wins and even that might not be enough. That’s a topic for another day though.

Word is that Mack was off scouting NFL camps during the last week (he wasn’t in Vancouver, but assistant GM Kyle Walters was), so it will be interesting to see what kind of personnel moves, if any, the Blue Bombers might make before returning to action on Aug. 16 against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Investors Group Field.

Friesen, on his first day back from holidays of his own, is handling the daily Blue Bombers news — outside of my piece that focuses on the 2nd CFL start of Justin Goltz. Be sure to check out www.winnipegsun.com and in Wednesday’s paper.

As I wait to hop on my own flight back home, it’s time to discuss a few things that stood out from Monday’s game that left the Blue Bombers with a 1-5 record and tied for last place in the CFL with the Edmonton Eskimos.

Let’s revisit the 5 things I suggested the Blue Bombers needed to do in order to get the struggling D back on track:

1) Lock it down — Fingers were being pointed by head coach Tim Burke directly at the secondary and for the most part, they responded well. Veteran Jovon Johnson probably had his best game of the season, finishing with seven tackles (and several big hits). Other than safety Cauchy Muamba falling down on the Lions’ third TD pass, the coverage was much improved. Without watching the film, it looked like DB Marty Markett had a tough game though, getting beaten in several 1-on-1 battles.

Here’s what Burke said after the game: “We played a lot better, as far as a defence and the secondary certainly played better than they had,” said Burke. “I still think we’ve got a ways to go there.”

2) Bring the pressure — It was a nice effort from the Blue Bombers D-line, as they recorded four sacks in the contest, including two from Alex Hall (team-leading 8) and one each for Kenny Mainor and Zach Anderson (four each in 2013). Hall in particular spent ample time pressuring and getting to Lions QB Travis Lulay. Hall’s wingspan and hustle helped him cause Lulay to fumble late in the first quarter (recovered by JT Gilmore). Retired CFLer Rob Murphy might have said it best on Twitter with this succinct quote: “Alex Hall is a damn good football player.”

3) Contain the run — The first half saw the Blue Bombers contain Winnipegger Andrew Harris to four runs for only nine yards. During the second half though, Harris had nine carries for 45 yards, not staggering but it was enough to move the chains on several occasions. The Blue Bombers still did a nice job against Harris, who had 13 carries for 56 yards (4.3 yard average) but added four catches for 25 yards.

4) Win the turnover battle — This category was dead even (2-2) until the Blue Bombers turned the ball over on downs twice during the fourth quarter as they tried to rally while trailing, giving the Lions a 4-2 edge. As mentioned, Hall forced a fumble that Gilmore recovered and the second was also a forced fumble, on special teams with Brandon Stewart nailing returner Tim Brown (James Green recovered). On the flip side, Blue Bombers returner Aaron Woods fumbled the opening kickoff after getting drilled by Solomon Elimimian (recovered by Stu Foord) and Goltz had an interception that came on a high throw to Chris Matthews, who got a hand on the ball before watching it drop into the waiting arms of Elimimian (who was outstanding in the contest). This was Goltz’s take on the INT: “I missed Chris high, the tipped it and they intercepted it. A yard or a couple inches can be the difference between a successful play and a non-successful play,” he said. “That was the case with that (play).”

5) Move the ball — As I mentioned in original column, this was not on the D but would certainly help matters if the Blue Bombers kept some drives alive and allowed the D some time to rest. After having the ball for 21:45 in a loss to the Calgary Stampeders the week before, the Blue Bombers improved to 27:38 on Monday, despite the fact the offence was unable to mount much of a 2nd half attack. Did the Lions throw some wrinkles at Goltz during the final 30 minutes? “Nah, I just think they locked us down,” said Goltz. “They didn’t change anything that was night and day from what we saw in the first half.”

The third quarter represented an offensive struggle for both sides as the lone point came on a Mike Renaud punt single (that was supposed to be a coffin corner that pinned the Lions deep.

It was 17-17 after three quarters but eventually, the Blue Bombers inability to move the ball efficiently, coupled with a perfect punt by Paul McCallum that pinned the Blue Bombers inside their own one-yard line, led to a safety that made it 19-17.

“B.C. had great field position the whole third quarter and we were hanging in there. But sooner or later, you can’t stop a good team from scoring if they get great field position. They finally did,” said Burke, who didn’t regret the decision to concede the safety. “No, it’s just one of those things. I got criticized for not taking a safety early in the year, so I guess I can get criticized for taking a safety this time.

“Part of it was, we had punted out from the 10-yard line (earlier) and it was down on the five and conventional wisdom is to give up the safety at that point. We just needed better field position and we hadn’t had any. We had to take a chance that we could gain some field position.”

The Blue Bombers aren’t having any player or coach access during the bye week, so it will likely be a little quieter on the blog during the next few days.

I’m starting holidays on Thursday, but ace beat man Kirk Penton is sure to keep you up to date with any happenings.

Enjoy the bye week.

Bombers walk into the Lions’ den

- August 5th, 2013

VANCOUVER — Greetings from the infamous and inspiring Sea Wall.

It’s an absolutely gorgeous day here in Van City and the plan is for the roof to be open at B.C. Place for the 6 p.m. CT start.

It’s my second game at B.C. Place since the renovations (after covering the 2012 season opener) but the first with the roof open, so the atmosphere should be fantastic.

During the interview session on Sunday afternoon, the roof was opening an several Blue Bombers snapped a quick picture off with their phone, I snapped one as well and posted it at @WiebeSunSports (if you don’t follow me already).

Hope you enjoyed our extensive package in Monday’s Winnipeg Sun and online at www.winnipegsun.com, but with kickoff a few hours away, it’s time for another game-day tee-up.

This should be an interesting match-up between a Lions team that’s 3-2 but coming off a disheartening 38-12 loss to the Toronto Argos on Tuesday.

It’s been a short week for them and Winnipegger Andrew Harris said the Lions were “pissed off” and used the word embarrassing to describe the defeat, so if the Blue Bombers were hoping to catch them on an off week, good luck with that.

“It’s a must-win for us. You want to go into the bye week 4-2,” said Harris. “Regardless of if we’re favoured or not, this is a big game for us. We’re shutting out all of the outsiders and all of the outside talk about that. For us, this is just another game we need to win and we’re tackling it that way.”

The Lions were incredibly loose during their walk-through, exuding plenty of energy.

Plenty of talk around Vancouver this week about the fact Travis Lulay has yet to toss for 300 yards in a game this season. It’s certainly a noteworthy statistic, but Harris explained it this way.

“Lulay does his job and makes big plays in so many different (ways). He’s our leader and we’ve been running the ball really well, so that might have taken away from the pass a little bit.,” said Harris. “We have a bunch of different guys who have a chance to run the ball and just mixing it up that way. We’re not a team that takes a lot of big shots. We’re a team that gets those short little gains and controls the time of possession. We’re not that big-play kind of team. Maybe that’s why he hasn’t hit 300 yards yet.”

For some reason, Lulay has struggled against the Blue Bombers during his career. None of his 13 career 300-plus yard games have come against them, so it was natural that he praised the Blue Bombers D and Tim Burke — despite their recent struggles.

“I expect a spirited effort from them,” said Lulay, who has thrown for sevens TDs and four INTs this season while piling up 1,200 yards through the air. “Since I’ve been around, knowing Tim Burke, I think Winnipeg takes a lot of pride in what they do on the defensive side of the football. Those guys probably feel like they got stung a little bit over the last couple of weeks. I expect a few different wrinkles from them and to want to get back on their feet and do what they do best.”

You have to give the Blue Bombers credit for keeping Lulay’s passer rating at 78.8 against them, but as a guy who can hurt you with his arm, his legs and his mind, it wouldn’t shock me to see the Leos pivot put up big numbers in this one. He’s due.

There are going to be plenty of eyes on Blue Bombers new starter Justin Goltz this week as he makes his second CFL start. If you were looking for a high degree of difficulty for the first two starts in a young career, it doesn’t get much tougher than facing the Lions and the Calgary Stampeders.

But this is a big opportunity for Goltz to continue his progression. He’s faced a steady stream of media requests since the official announcement came down that he was replacing Buck Pierce, so the local print media gave him a break yesterday while he took questions from TSN and a few Vancouver folks.

However, regardless of how things turn out today, you can be sure Goltz is going to be a man in demand after the contest, as the Blue Bombers will either be 1-5 heading into their bye week or 2-4 and feeling quite good about themselves.

The most important thing for Goltz this week is to protect the football and trust his reads a bit more. Last week, outside of his two well-executed drives that led to TDs to Jade Etienne, Goltz relied on his feet a bit too much. His accuracy needs to improve and as is the case for every QB every single week, he must protect the football.

The Lions are last in the CFL in sacks (9, compared to 20 for the Blue Bombers), so Goltz might have a bit more time to get rid of the football. It’s also essential the Blue Bombers find a way to get Chad Simpson going in the running game.

Simpson hasn’t approached 20 carries yet this season and today might be a good place to start.

The Blue Bombers are making six changes to their 42-man roster this week (after making 7 a week earlier), getting WR Chris Matthews and nickelback Desia Dunn are the most important. Also returning to the lineup are DT JT Gilmore (who has lost his starting job to Zach Anderson), DB Jeremy McGee and LB Rene Stephan. DE Mathieu Boulay will make his Blue Bomber debut and is expected to play a big role on special teams (along with Stephan).

“You’d like to have some consistency some continuity, so you that you’re always building,” said Burke. “In the professional game, so much more than the college game, you rely so much more on interaction between players.”

Let’s give the last word to Blue Bombers DB Alex Suber, whose unit was under attack from opposing QBs the past three weeks (87% completion rate, seven TDs, no picks) and got a friendly reminder from Burke about the need to be more “assignment sharp” and focus on their own jobs while trying not to do too much.

“A lot of guys were trying to make plays and not just doing their job. A few mental mistakes, so we spent this week getting back to basics, fundamentals and getting back to our technique, getting back together. . We’re looking forward to this week to bounce back,” said Suber. “Definitely, guys just wanted to get better. Enough talking, let’s play ball.”

I expect the Blue Bombers to put forth a determined effort but the Lions are a motivated bunch themselves and could be just a little too much to handle and that’s why I’m sticking with them with my prediction.

Lions 36 Blue Bombers 20

Enjoy the game.

 

 

 

The Buck Pierce era is over as Justin Goltz takes over as starting QB

- August 1st, 2013

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers took the next step toward either transitioning Buck Pierce out of the organization or at the very least, easing him toward a coaching job with the team.

After the Blue Bombers took five days off, Blue Bombers head coach Tim Burke informed the media that Justin Goltz was the new full-time starter and that Buck Pierce’s new job title was undefined, but it would include helping the other quartertbacks and doing some game-planning work with offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton.

You can understand why the Blue Bombers are making the change at the QB position, they’re 1-4 and Pierce’s past injury woes have been well-chronicled.

The curious thing was that Burke didn’t unveil all of his plan to Pierce, who was understandably emotional and sounded somewhat in the dark when it came to the subject of mentoring, when he met with the press after Thursday’s workout.

Pierce had two days to digest the news that he’d been relegated to backup or third-string duty and he’s not exactly at peace with the decision.

“We’re going into Week 6 of the season. I can’t speak on their decisions at all. I just know they pay me to do a job. Now I’m not doing that job,” said Pierce. “I have to stay positive in my mind and help the guys that go out there and play. But I’m definitely not happy about it.

“You know, I’m in shape to play right now. Nothing was ever spoken to me about bringing young guys along right now and helping in that aspect. So that was never talked to me about.”

Was Pierce put in a position to succeed this year?

“We’re working through some things,” said Pierce. “I don’t feel I’ve played my best football but I think we’re growing as an offence. I’ll leave it at that. There’s still a lot of football left and the guys are still working through it. We need to do some things better. That’s all the way across the board. It’s not just players. It’s everybody.”

Pierce talked a lot about staying positive but he didn’t hide his disappointment and how can you blame him? The competitive nature is what allowed him to carve out a career as a professional football player in the first place.

Now Pierce, who is engaged to a Winnipegger and has made the city his full-time home, is being told he’s no longer capable of doing that job.

Accepting a demotion is one thing, the uncertainty of perhaps slipping to the third-string spot on the depth chart is quite another and Pierce didn’t exactly pour water on a suggestion he might want to pursue another opportunity within the CFL if one presented itself.

“I’m going to see where things fall into place. If my skills can be used on the football field somewhere, then that’s what I want to do right now,” he said.

Coaching might be a possibility down the road, but Pierce believes he has some good football left in him.

“Injuries aside, whatever. I’m healthy right now and they’re deciding not to play me. It’s frustrating. It’s tough,” said Pierce. “The mentally tough people will rise above it and make a positive out of it. That’s how I’ve always lived my life and handled myself.”

Goltz said a lot of smart things during his session with reporters and he’s excited about making his second CFL start against the Lions on Monday and focused solely on helping the Blue Bombers try to turn things around.

“Every time you step on the field, you’re learning something new,” said Goltz. “It was no different last week. I felt comfortable out there, but there were more plays that needed to be made, both by myself and our entire team. Every time I step on the field I feel more and more comfortable.”

Goltz expertly handled a question about whether he’s viewing this chance to audition for the Ottawa Red Blacks, who will be looking for QB help in December’s CFL expansion draft.

“That’s looking way, way too far ahead. There’s a lot of season left and I’m proud to be a Winnipeg Blue Bomber. That’s all I care about,” said Goltz. “We’re five games into an 18-game season. It’s frustrating to sit here and say every week that there’s a lot of time to turn things around. We need to turn it around now. We can’t consistently sit here and say that. To look that far ahead would be negligent on my part, just kind of irresponsible.”

You might say Burke is putting the future of the team ahead of his personal job security, given Goltz’s lack of experience. How come?

“I just feel like this is the right move to make at this time. I don’t want to put myself above the team,” said Burke. “Obviously, how we perform affects me and my job, obviously. Hopefully, this will lead us to some more wins down the line.”

Burke has often praised Pierce’s competitive nature, but ultimately he’s looking for a little more continuity behind centre.

“It is (tough). You guys all know Buck, he’s a great guy and he’s the ultimate competitor. He’s worked really hard and he’s been a really good quarterback in this league. He led us to a Grey Cup. It’s really hard from that perspective to say that at this point in our organiation, we just need to move forward,” said Burke. “Buck would make an excellent coach. Whether that would be in his plans, I don’t know. But certainly, he could be a really good coach. He’s got a lot of experience. He knows the defensive co-ordinators in this league, he knows a lot of players in this league. So he can assist them with all of that kind of knowledge.”

Pierce will dress as the third-stringer this week as the Blue Bombers continue to say Pierce is banged up with that abdominal injury and Pierce says he’s fully healthy.

How things shake down between Max Hall and Pierce in the battle for the backup job is up in the air.

“That’s going to be determined as we go down the line,” said Burke. “I will say that we feel Max Hall has really developed as well. He’s really come a long ways since joining the organization.

“We’ll see where it goes from here.”

There’s a full story on Goltz taking over in Friday’s paper and online at www.winnipegsun.com. Also part of the package is a column on what the Blue Bombers should actually do with Pierce, along with Burke’s reaction to the firing in Montreal.

 

Burke tells Blue Bomber vets to set the tone

- June 17th, 2013

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Tim Burke wants his vets thinking about the days leading up to June 27 and his inexperienced players thinking about trying to show that they belong on Thursday night in their CFL pre-season finale against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Burke called his vets to lead by example and start the process of being ready for the CFL season opener against the Montreal Alouettes, reiterating he believes this group has what it takes to be more like the 2011 club and less like the 2012 squad that missed the playoffs for the third time in four years.

“Because we told the players who were going on this trip and who wasn’t, I wanted them to look ahead and start focusing in on Montreal,” said Burke. “Right now, we should be gradually building towards a peak on June 27 and go out there and give everything we’ve got and perform at the highest level we can perform at. That was the reason (for the mid-field chat with the vets).”

Here’s the full story:

http://www.winnipegsun.com/2013/06/17/blue-bombers-cut-andre-carroll-mark-dewit

For those folks still worrying about starting pivot Buck Pierce being rusty for the opener with limited pre-season action, Burke cited the Edmonton Eskimos situation — where Matt Nichols suffered an injury during a pre-season game and is currently sidelined leaving free agent addition Mike Reilly to take the majority of No. 1 reps.

“My thing is, I want to get us to the first game healthy,” said Burke. “I know people have asked, is Buck getting enough reps? Well, Nicholls isn’t getting any reps right now for Edmonton and that’s not the situation I want to be in. I want to be out there with our full batch of starters ready to go and compete in the first game.”

As of right now, the only Blue Bomber in danger of not being ready for week 1 is DB Johnny Sears, who had another strong practice and is expected to be ready for either Week 1 or Week 2 after undergoing knee surgery during the off-season.

Meanwhile, quarterback Justin Goltz is excited about the chance to start on Thursday and see a full half of action. He’s also eager to show he deserves to be No. 2 on the depth chart behind Pierce.

“If hasn’t been solidified and I’m going into this pre-season to continue to go prove myself,” said Goltz. “If (the back-up job) is still open, then it’s still open and I’m going to go out and compete for it.”

Goltz was asked if he feels good about where he’s at to this point of training camp?

“Absolutely, I think the past couple of years have really come to fruition,” said Goltz. “I’m seeing it on the field. I feel like I’ve been sharp, completed a lot of balls and now it’s taken it to the next level in this last game of the pre-season and throughout the regular season as well.”

With only one quarter each to prove themselves, Max Hall and Chase Clement will be trying to do exactly the same thing and it will be interesting to see how things shake down.

My main story is on Blue Bombers left guard Chris Greaves, the converted D-lineman, who is ready for his second full season as a starter. The compliments were flowing for Greaves on Monday:

http://www.winnipegsun.com/2013/06/17/winnipeg-blue-bombers-offensive-lineman-riding-the-greavy-train

For those wondering about where released DB Jonathan Hefney might end up, a source told Sun football writer Kirk Penton that the field is down to two teams in the West, the Edmonton Eskimos and Calgary Stampeders.

I’m taking a few days off and columnist Paul Friesen is on the beat tomorrow.

Burke takes a stand on Hefney

- June 16th, 2013

First of all, Happy Father’s Day to all the dad’s out there. Hope you’ve enjoyed an excellent day.

There was plenty of buzz around Investors Group Field, with the Manitoba Marathon finishing up next door at University Stadium.

As you can imagine, most of the questions this afternoon revolved around the release of veteran DB Jonathan Hefney, who was shown the door on Saturday afternoon, well after reporter’s had left the scene.

Blue Bombers head coach Tim Burke took full control of the situation and I wrote a column with my opinion on the matter.

Say this about Burke, he’s a straight-shooter and he doesn’t beat around the bush.

It would have been easy for Burke to lay the blame of the release of Hefney on GM Joe Mack but that’s not how things went down. Not even close.

“I know Joe has been taking a lot of heat,” said Burke. “Since I don’t the newspapers, I don’t listen to the talk shows and definitely don’t read the blogs, I don’t know where he’s getting the heat from but ultimately it’s my decision and I did it in conjunction with the defensive co-ordinator (Casey Creehan) and the secondary coach (Carl Franks). When I approached Joe about the decision, he said I’ll support you in whatever you want to do. Ultimately, it’s my decision.

“The decision to release Jonathan was based on several aspects, but primarily it was performance-based.”

Some folks will say the Blue Bombers are simply dumping Hefney because of his off-field issues — whether it be a Twitter reaction last off-season or the charges for possession of marijuana from last week (something Hefney failed to unveil to the Blue Bombers when he arrived for training camp) — but Burke made it abundantly clear that his biggest issue with Hefney was his deteriorating play on the field.

Burke put the veterans in the secondary on notice early in training camp, so he was asked if Hefney was the only one the message was directed at.

“I’ll just say there was more than one person in the secondary that underperformed last year,” said Burke. “That’s what I’ll say. How’s that?”

Burke said there were some things Hefney could no longer do at the halfback position, but when asked for specific examples, the head coach chose to plead the fifth (which is a rare occasion in itself).

“I’d rather not say. I’ll just leave it at that,” said Burke. “There’s certain responsibilities that a halfback has in our system that he couldn’t perform, up to the highest standard we need to win with.”

I asked Burke what he thought about the theory that Hefney might have been a distraction to his teammates?

“I don’t think he ever did anything that distracted the players at all. It probably was more the organization,” said Burke. “You’say things you shouldn’t say and it reflects on (the) organization. I don’t think the players were affected by it.”

Veteran receiver Terrence Edwards agreed.

“Nobody has ever complained about Hef on or off the field,” said Edwards. “He may have his Twitter problems but it never caused a problem in the locker room. But no one ever came to me or other leaders and said ‘can you talk to him.’ Nobody has ever done that. We’re going to move forward with this team and try to win games, that’s the most important thing.”

Speaking of Edwards, both he and DB Johnny Sears were full participants on the field for the first time in training camp.

Although Sears only took part in half the session, both he and Edwards are progressing nicely.

I wrote about them in my other main story.

No word yet on where Hefney might land, but the first team that caught my attention was the Toronto Argonauts, since Hefney is close to DT Khalif Mitchell and the Argos secondary is a bit in flux after winning the Grey Cup last year.

Calgary Stampeders personnel man John Murphy was the guy who helped bring Hefney to the Blue Bombers and a sleeper team to watch is the Edmonton Eskimos.

As for Hefney’s most likely replacement, Demond Washington got another round of rave reviews from Burke on Sunday afternoon and is the clear front-runner to be the new starter at boundary halfback.

“You’ve got to go out there every day and compete every play. Right now, I’m just trying to compete and trying to get the starting job,” said Washington. “The game has slowed down a lot for me right now. I’ve got a lot of speed and quickness and I can move my hips very quick. In that scheme, it’s a lot speed and quickness on that boundary. You’ve got to match speed and quickness with speed and quickness.

“We’re only going to react one way and that’s to come out here every day and get better. We’ve got to put that (Hefney release) aside. Adversity strikes and an opportunity opens up and we’ve got to try and keep going.”

Washington also remains in the mix to be one of the Blue Bombers primary returners, which goes against special-teams coach Craig Dickenson’s stated preference.

“He knows I want to get back there and return. He’s got his philosophy and if he doesn’t want that, then I can’t make him,” said Washington. “I’m going to try and get at least one (return) in a game and be ready for that.”

On the infirmary front, RB Chris Garrett was back on the field Sunday after suffering an ankle injury on Saturday that he deemed minor.

“Yeah, I knew it was fine,” said Garrett, who missed all of 2012 with a torn Achille. “Now, if I was on the ground holding my leg in pain, then you’d know it was a little different. That was a little tweak. No big deal. I’m out here, I’m good.”

Those missing the workout due to injury include: OT Glenn January, WRs Kito Poblah, Kurt Adams, Isaac Anderson, Rory Kohlert, Jameze Massey, Taylor Renaud and Wallace Miles, LBs Henoc Muamba and Rene Stephan, DB Jeremy McGee and DL Dexter Davis.

The Blue Bombers had to trim their roster to 65 players by 10:59 p.m. CT in accordance with CFL rules but they didn’t plan to announce the cuts until Monday morning.