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Bombers open training camp in shiny new stadium

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The Canadian Press
6/2/2013 3:55:46 PM
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WINNIPEG -- Cauchy Muamba's got younger brother Henoc's back.

He's pencilled in to start at safety for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, right behind brother Henoc at middle linebacker.

"I'm just trying to fit in wherever I can," said the latest Muamba to join the Bombers as training camp opened Sunday.

"It's a good feeling right now."

Cauchy Muamba spent three seasons with the B.C. Lions before signing with Winnipeg as a free agent in February.

Younger brother Henoc, the No. 1 pick in the 2011 CFL draft, nailed his starting job with the Bombers last year. He finished 2012 with a team-high 20 special teams tackles, three sacks, two pass knockdowns and a league-high five forced fumbles.

Coach Tim Burke and general manager Joe Mack are looking for a similar high level of performance from their second Muamba. Both are products of St. Francis Xavier.

Cauchy Muamba said playing on the same team as his brother means they can collaborate a lot more than when he was with the Lions.

"When I was in B.C., we never used to talk about plays and stuff like that because we were on different teams.

"Now that we're on the same team and the same defence, whenever we have a chance we try to talk about a scenario, try to make each other better . . . try to understand each other, so that when it comes on the field, it's just like second nature."

This is Burke's first full season as head coach and, just like on offence, the Bombers are rewriting some of their book on defence. Muamba said right now they're working on the mental aspects of the game.

"We're all learning a defence that's going to help us with our abilities. Coach (Casey) Creehan is doing a good job of utilizing everyone's ability and knowing what they can do and they can't do . . to make us pretty smooth on the field and not like robots."

Burke has made it clear he wants a lot more from his secondary and said if some of last year's starters don't get better, they'll be replaced.

They're also trying out two new backup quarterbacks and looking at three possible new punters. Mike Renaud's lack of consistency last season prompted the move, according to Burke.

On offence, a leaner, ripped Buck Pierce returns at starting quarterback.

He's dropped at least 20 pounds and the team supports his decision to use speed to move out of the way of trouble, rather than bulking up to take hits. The latter strategy failed last season, when he missed more than half of it due to a series of injuries.

"A new day has dawned," said veteran offensive lineman Glenn January.

"We've got a new offence out there. We've kept a lot of the good stuff and got rid of the bad stuff. We've got a lot of new wrinkles this year. . . I feel like a young guy in there trying to hit the books."

This is offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton's second season in the CFL and he worked to bring more speed to the pace of the offence.

Behind backup quarterbacks at times, and with rookies on the line, that offence sputtered for a good chunk of 2012. It cost then head coach Paul LaPolice his job.

"It won't look the same," receiver Chris Matthews said of the offence, but he added it retains a lot of the same elements introduced in 2012.

They certainly seemed to work for him.

Matthews was named the CFL's outstanding rookie in 2012 after racking up 1,192 yards and entering Bomber record books as the first rookie ever to break 1,000 yards.

"It's the same but we're working it different and there's different schemes to it. . . adding in a couple of wrinkles, fine-tuning things and switching players around."

The star of training camp Sunday was Investors Group Field, the new $200-million home of the Bombers on the campus of the University of Manitoba.

"The ambience is great," said Burke of the 33,422-seat, open-bowl style field, with partially covered seating areas.

A few thousand of those seats were full Sunday on a cool but sunny afternoon as fans turned out to cheer on the team and take a look at the new field.

"When we first came out, and fans were cheering and all that, you can tell it's going to be loud, so that will be great," said the coach.

The Bombers dealt themselves a four-game road stand to start 2012 in hopes the field would be ready last season.

It wasn't, and they ended up playing all their home games at crumbling Canad Inns Stadium, which has now been torn down.

Burke said there were no injuries reported after the first day of main camp but the Bombers lost 2013 draft pick and promising receiver Michael DiCroce at rookie camp to a broken bone in his foot.

Buck Pierce  (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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