The roster looks relatively unchanged from the 2012 edition that finished tied for a league-worst 6-12 record, but one thing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are banking on in order to right the ship in 2013 is the development of a key prospect — head coach Tim Burke.
Now, referring to the much-lauded defensive mind of Burke as a prospect is quite partial after seven seasons in the CFL, but the two-time Grey Cup champion is entering his first full season at the helm of all three phases of football following 30-plus years in defensive coaching and coordinator roles and nine games with the interim tag after Winnipeg's dismissal of Paul LaPolice in late August.
Burke is building a new culture in Winnipeg based on his core principles of discipline, confidence, execution, and speed. And by transferring his regimented and no-nonsense approach from the defensive side of the ball to the entire game, he may spark the change needed to overcome a championship drought that has spanned over two decades in Winnipeg.
Veterans like six-year Blue Bomber Jovon Johnson see it.
"I think he'll bring a presence to this team that we haven't had in years, and he'll have success as a head coach.
"It's not only the defensive backs or the defence — it's the whole team now," added the league's Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 2011. "So a lot of the team gets to see the way that he is as a coach. We've seen it for a number of years now, but I think the rest of the players are getting to see that he holds everybody accountable and his standards are set very high.
"I think a lot of players respond to the way he coaches. When you've got a tenacious coach, the way he is and the way he coaches the game, it reflects on the players and how we go out and perform. Because that's the type of guy he is, and it ultimately goes down through everybody on the team."
Receiver Terrence Edwards, entering his seventh season in Winnipeg, has noticed the difference in Burke from his last bench boss.
"He's preparing us real hard, I can tell you that much. He's trying to make practice so hard and so scattered that when you get in games it's supposed to be easier. He's really pushing us and he's in our face.
"It's a little different than coach (Paul LaPolice's) style. Coach Burke is really in-your-face at everybody. It doesn't matter who you are — in your face pushing you."
Burke has been steadfast in applying and enforcing his principles throughout training camp — you can hear it, even when watching workouts from a distance — and he continues to work to ensure everything is done his way while in charge.
"Everything is about attention to detail," Burke said. "If you let it slide in one area it's going to slide in a game. We've got to do all the little things right. The margin of error in this league is so small between victory and defeat.
"I just want us to be seeking perfection every day. Trying to get better and better and better every day and practicing at a high pace and play with discipline. And trying to out-execute our opponents."
But being outscored 76-6 in their two preseason contests — a 24-6 home loss at the hands of mostly starter-less Argonauts roster, and a 52-0 embarrassment with their own skeleton roster of rookies and eventual castoffs against the Tiger-Cats in Guelph — has some feeling that the new head coach may have his team lacking confidence entering Week 1, just seven days removed from the second-worst loss in CFL preseason history.
Burke doesn't believe it will be an issue.
"I don't think the preseason games have had any effect, certainly for the guys we left behind. It wasn't on TV and we didn't show them the film… When you think about it, there's just a few guys who played in that game (in Guelph) who will play this week so I don't think there's going to be a big effect."
"I'm sure coming off of last year and the two preseason games nobody expects us to do anything," added Johnson. "So it's our job to go out and shock the world."
The first ever regular season game at the spanking new Investors Group Field will be a telling matchup as the Bombers host Anthony Calvillo and the Alouettes to kick off the 2013 CFL season.
Notes: Receiver Chris Matthews, fresh off his CFL Most Outstanding Rookie season in 2012, tweaked his ankle late in practice on Sunday and will be a game-time decision against Montreal in Week 1. It will be a noticeable difference for quarterback Buck Pierce — 5-foot-10 Isaac Anderson will get his fourth career start if the 6-foot-5 Matthews is unable to go … 2011 fourth-overall draft pick Jade Etienne is slated to (finally) get his first career start in Week 1 at slotback … Terrence Edwards will dress for the first time after missing both preseason games while recovering from off-season foot surgery … Nickelback Johnny Sears still isn't ready to go following his off-season ACL surgery, so either rookie Desia Dunn or sophomore Jeremy McGee will start at the position formerly referred to in Winnipeg as strong-side linebacker … Other new starters for Week 1 include Terrell Parker at weak-side linebacker, Demond Washington at the halfback spot vacated by Jonathan Hefney following his release, and Kenny Mainor enters his third CFL season eyeing career start number seven at defensive end, but don't be surprised to see import rookie Freddie Harris rotated in heavily at that spot … Starting 2013 on the one-game injured list; running back Chris Garrett, receivers Doug Pierce and Kito Poblah, nickelback Johnny Sears, defensive lineman Jake Thomas … O-lineman Tyson Pencer is the only player who will start the season on the nine-game injured list … The Bombers currently have 45 players listed on their 46-man roster, and there is another open spot on the practice roster with the rumour being that general manager Joe Mack is after a young quarterback to develop behind backups Justin Goltz and Max Hall, as well as another non-import player … The worst loss in CFL preseason history took place back in 1962 when the Blue Bombers lost 53-0 to the Alouettes in Montreal. Four months later, Winnipeg captured their fourth Grey Cup in five years with a 28-27 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the historic 50th Grey Cup game known as "The Fog Bowl." It is the first and only Grey Cup to ever have play suspended and completed the following day.