When a head coach and his team sit with just a pair of wins come Thanksgiving, the playoffs are all but a mathematical long shot. Considering that the team has gone through more turnover, turmoil, and injuries than the franchise has seen in decades, it may prove difficult to keep the troops motivated.
For head coach Tim Burke and the rest of the organizational brass — from acting CEO Wade Miller to acting GM Kyle Walters all the way through to the scouting and coaching staff — the collective mantra is to have the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the most advantageous position possible come training camp.
"Everything we're doing from here on out, we're building for the future," said Burke as he prepared his 2-12 club for Monday's Week 16 visit to Montreal. "The guys who are playing here are playing to get better. I just looked at who we played this last week against Calgary. We actively played I think it was seven rookies, six second-year guys, and nine third-year guys — so we're really young. We're going to use these last four weeks to just get better as a team and gain experience in the CFL. That way we're making ourselves better for next year."
Burke has instilled a fresh mentality in his veteran leadership, as well as into the air-lift of new bodies brought in over the last few weeks. At this juncture, one could argue every single player on the roster is auditioning for a job next spring.
"I've never been in a situation like this before at this point in the season, but honestly we're out here proving ourselves to the coaches and management every day," said defensive end Greg Peach, who was brought in mid-season after being released by Hamilton. "It's not like it all of a sudden changes and 'oh my god, I've got to play hard.' Every day that you are here you're playing for your job if it's practice, games. So that hasn't changed in my mind, and I don't think a lot of the guys' minds. But it is evident. We do have to play well."
"He's basically laid it out there for us that if you want to continue to play this game you're going to have to perform whenever times get tough," said fifth-year Blue Bomber Glenn January. "This is about as tough a time as you can have in this profession. You've got to keep on coming to work every day with that hard-hat mentality, and making sure you don't put anything on film that can allow anyone to question your dedication to this game."
For consecutive weeks the Blue Bombers have introduced new players into their lineup, either by way of injury, performance, or acquisition by the general manager. With the trade of CFL sack leader Alex Hall last week to Saskatchewan for a potential ratio-changer in offensive tackle Patrick Neufeld, Greg Peach slots into the starting lineup on the defensive line. The 24-year-old Neufeld will watch this week before potentially entering the lineup for the Week 17 home date with the Argonauts.
The club has also brought in multiple imports including defensive end J.D. Griggs who will dress in Montreal. Burke describes Griggs as physically stronger than the departed speed rusher Hall. Others who will work to leave an impression over the remaining month of the season are defensive ends Michael McAdoo and Jake Killeen, offensive linemen Cordaro Howard and Shea Allard, receiver Jheranie Boyd, running back Mario Fannin, linebacker Taylor Reed, and defensive back Semaj Moody.