WINNIPEG — The key to success this season for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is simple: Keep quarterback Buck Pierce healthy.
And that’s something both the Bombers and their oft-injured quarterback say they’ll do whatever they can to make a reality. And that includes avoiding plays that could increase Pierce’s risk of injury while providing him with more protection.
“I’m one of those guys that’s always, ‘Yeah, call whatever,’ ” Pierce said Tuesday, a day after being named Winnipeg’s starter again heading into training camp. “I’ll run the play that you call and if you want me to run for a first down I’ll run for a first down and I’ll still be that player.
“But I think now they’re going to put some other things in place to really help me on the perimeter and in the pocket.”
In other words, when Pierce is on the field the Bombers have made it clear the quarterback draw is likely one play that won’t be called.
Pierce also has a lot more confidence in his offensive line, which took more than a few games to gel last season.
“I have tons of confidence in those guys,” Pierce said. “You look at the first half of the season (compared) to the last half — the way we were running the football, the way they were firing off the ball, the way they were communicating with each other.”
Last season, Winnipeg looked to return to the Grey Cup after losing to B.C. in the 2011 CFL title game. But after a weak start on the road because their new stadium wasn’t ready, Pierce missed 11 games — with a foot injury, concussion and finally a shoulder problem — and the Bombers missed the playoffs.
Pierce knows fans were disappointed but he says no one was more upset than he was that he let the organization down by not being able to play. He can’t say anything to change that.
“I have to go out there and prove it . . . I feel the pressure,” he said. “I know they’re concerned.
“They want me behind centre but they want me behind centre week in and week out.”
While Pierce said he still has to earn the starting job in camp, it doesn’t look like the Bombers have given themselves a lot of other options.
Coach Tim Burke has said he surveyed coaches and players and all agree Pierce gives them their best chance to win, if he stays healthy.
The only backup the Bombers retained from last season, Justin Goltz, had the least experience of the three that were there last year. But both Alex Brink and Joey Elliott have been released.
Max Hall and Chase Clement, two new prospects signed this week, have some NFL or United Football League experience but neither has ever played in the CFL.
Pierce says he doesn’t know much about either and although Pierce has spent nine years in the CFL, he’s sure they don’t know much about him.
The good news for the Bombers, though, is Investors Group Field finally looks ready for football.
Pierce met with reporters Tuesday at the Bomber Store inside the new 33,422-seat stadium, where the Bombers will play their first home exhibition game June 27 against the Montreal Alouettes. The club was scheduled to move into the facility last year but construction delays prevented that from happening.