With training camp now in the rear view mirror, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had their first practice on Tuesday with the new-look squad.
“Waking up today, it was just a lot of excitement,” quarterback Matt Nichols said.
“To get in here with the official team for this year, and get to work, and start normal work weeks, and get back on that routine.”
The team is coming off a 10-win season that saw them win their first playoff game in seven years. The roster underwent a makeover in the off-season, though, with major changes to both the offensive line and the secondary.
But once again, expectations are still extremely high.
“I think we’re definitely better in a lot of areas,” running back Andrew Harris said.
“And the competition at training camp definitely was amazing, and there was some tough decisions to be made. A lot of guys were pushed to get better, and I think it’s going to continue to happen throughout the season. So I think overall, we got better in a lot of areas, and we got some dynamic players that can make plays a lot of different ways.”
It’s been 29 years since the club last won the Grey Cup, and hopes are high the long drought can finally come to an end.
“We have high expectations,” Nichols said. “We expect to be better than we were last year. I think that we have the talent to be better than we were last year, and all that’s fun to talk about, but we need to go out and play good on game day week in and week out.”
The Bombers had a number of departures on defence over the winter, with Jovan Santos-Knox, Chris Randle, Kevin Fogg, Tristan Okpalaugo and Taylor Loffler among the players who are no longer wearing the blue and gold.
The Bombers added Willie Jefferson at the defensive end and Winston Rose at cornerback, while returning players Chandler Fenner, Kyrie Wilson and Jeff Hecht are expected to move into starting roles.
“I think it all bodes well,” head coach Mike O’Shea said. “We’re going to be a strong team.”
The club also has a few more weapons on offence for Nichols, with Chris Matthews and the speedy Lucky Whitehead joining an already talented receiving corps.
“Overall, we’ve increased the team speed,” O’Shea said. “I think the guys that were here last year are really taking it upon themselves to make sure the guys around them are ready, guys are going to be ready.
“I think, you know, we’ve lost a little bit of leadership, but we’ve also picked some back up.”
The Bombers kick off the regular season in B.C. on Saturday night with their first game against the Lions.
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