Wasn’t able to squeeze everything into the fish wrap today, so here are a few leftovers and thoughts from a very busy Thursday on Maroons Road …
• Unlike last winter, when Buck Pierce was recovering from a dislocated elbow, he can focus totally on training this off-season. He looks bigger and leaner than he did at the end of last year. “I physically feel great,” he said. “Just a broken heart from the Grey Cup still.”
• The contract extension for GM Joe Mack was a no-brainer. He oversaw a team that went from 4-14 to the Grey Cup. “The people and the fans of Winnipeg have really been great to me, and I can’t say how much I appreciate the support that I’ve gotten from the board of directors of the Winnipeg Football Club,” he said.
• It really sounds like quarterback Alex Brink is going to be coming back to the Bombers. Both Mack and Brink’s agent, Ken Staninger, had nothing but positive things to say about the situation on Thursday. Staninger even hinted there’s basically nowhere else for Brink to go in the CFL. And when you consider Pierce’s injury history and the fact Joey Elliott is coming off ACL surgery, Winnipeg might not be a bad place for him. He could be playing before he knows it.
• I asked Pierce what went wrong with the offence last season, and here was his answer: “I thought we showed flashes of toughness and what we could do. We were just inconsistent. We didn’t play very well on the road. You could say it’s maturity issues and lack of focus throughout the long, 18-week season, and I’m sure that was part of it, but overall we just need to get better. And if it’s getting better in the meeting rooms or the way we conduct practices and change up what we do day to day, all those things kind of factor in. I’m still a big believer in what we do offensively and our schemes, and I think we can make it work.”
• It’s interesting to hear Pierce mention maturity issues, but then again the Bombers are the youngest team in the league and many of them are still learning how to be pros.
• The folks on Maroons Road are nervous about free agent-to-be Brendon LaBatte, and they should be. All signs are pointing to him leaving the Bombers after four seasons, with his home province of Saskatchewan a likely destination. LaBatte has all the leverage here. He is their best O-lineman — one of the best in the league — and he needs to get paid. On the other hand, the Bombers need him. That works out well for LaBatte’s bank account. I actually believe LaBatte wants to stay in Winnipeg, but it will be easy for him to go home if he doesn’t get top dollar. Plus, the two men who drafted him sixth overall in 2008, Brendan Taman and Bob Dyce, are now in Regina. Not sure if that matters, but it might.
• Pierce talked to new offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton on Wednesday, and it’s safe to say No. 4 is excited about the appointment. “I’m just very excited to be working with a guy of his calibre,” Pierce said. “Just knowing his record with quarterbacks and his coaching resume, it’s just mind-blowing.”
• Pierce agreed something had to change when it came to the offence. Jamie Barresi was fired two days after the Grey Cup. “I think a change was needed,” Pierce said. “I have the utmost respect for coach Barresi. I pretty much worked with him pretty much my whole career in the CFL, and I knew he’d land a job soon. But change is needed, whether it be a player or coach or somewhere, and that’s what happened. We addressed it quickly, and we rectified that. The future will show what that has done for us, but I think it’s a positive step.”
• Not sure of the exact figures on Pierce’s three-year deal, but over the last two years he was getting about $125,000 in bonuses and base salary with a chance to make $200,000 if he started every game and had star-studded seasons. He obviously got a healthy raise after getting the Blue and Gold to the Grey Cup, but Mack said the Bombers are still protected somewhat if Pierce gets hurt, meaning a chunk of his salary will still depend on his health. “I gave consideration to what Buck has meant to the organization overall. The fact that he’s been extremely tough, he’s been a leader,” Mack said. “I anticipate him continuing that, so I acknowledged that and we factored that into the contract, while Buck also acknowledged that there is that medical history. It’s a balancing act between the two.”
• The next Bomber signing you’ll probably hear about is receiver Greg Carr.
• Mack didn’t say no when asked if he was considering free-agent offensive lineman Alex Gauthier. Mack plans to look at the tape to see if Gauthier regressed badly during the 2011 season with the Roughriders. The Bombers took a run at him last February.