WINNIPEG — Perhaps the concerns about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive line won’t ever be realized.
It is possible, of course, that the front of the front seven may take a step back after the losses of not only some quality players in Odell Willis, Doug Brown and Donny Oramasionwu, but also the loss of experience they brought to the line. Brown’s retirement wasn’t a surprise, but the trading of Willis and the ‘thanks but no thanks’ dismissal of Oramasionwu were, even if both transactions fell into general manager Joe Mack’s ‘youth over experience’ pattern of team building.
Fourth-year-man Dorian Smith remains the lone holdover from that era and the rest of the unit — the new breed of Bombers defensive linemen — have only a season under their belts.
But those worries are more like guesses right now, rush end Kenny Mainor says. Replacing talents like the three departed is difficult, yes, that’s true, but he feels it’s time for this current collection — himself, Bryant Turner, Jason Vega, Rodney Fritz, Fernand Kashama, plus the host of newcomers at training camp — to draw comfort from their own experiences, limited as they may be at this stage.
“It was a big loss losing guys like Doug and Odell and Donny-O,” Mainor said. “It was a blow, of course. But I knew there had to be some other guys coming in and setting up for a big competition. We have some holes to fill. All those vets and all that knowledge, you lose that kind of talent, of course it’s going to hurt the organization, but there are a lot of guys here now who can do the same things.”
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Mainor scoffed at the premise that the Bombers defensive line should be treated as an area of concern heading into the season.
“People can say what they want,” he said. “We have talent, so if we’re going to be underdogs or not expect us to be as good as we were last year, that’s cool. We’ll just come from behind again. Nobody expects us to do well — that’s fine — we’ll just come to play and see what happens.”
Listen to Mainor, and there’s no reason to think the Bombers will see any drop off in production from last year. The Troy-product had eight sacks in 15 games, second behind Willis (13), and was a part of a rotation that helped lead the Bombers to a CFL best 55 sacks.
He feels the current group has enough talent to cause disruption in the backfield just like they did last season. As for the experience and leadership shortfall, the 26-year-old is ready to assume some of the responsibility — even if he doesn’t have the resumé of a Brown or Willis.
“Being a vet — or at least someone who has been here last year — I’m still learning myself, but I want to pass on what I know to the other guys. You know, being a good leader. I have no problem with it. I think it’s something that just comes naturally. The guys are listening, and a lot of us have been here last year and know what’s expected.
“All of us are helping each other and helping the younger guys at the same time.”
That’s good news for Will Plemons, who took over the D-line coaching reigns left vacant by the death of Richard Harris last July. Plemons comes to the CFL with some big shoes to fill, so he was pleased to hear Mainor’s attitude Saturday.
“They have to produce and the do the right things in the league — that’s what leadership is,” he said. “A lot of those guys were young last year, but they have some experience now. What I really like about those guys is that they care. They want to learn and get better, and they’ve really taken to my new system and the way I like to coach.”
Plemons said it’s too early in the camp process to grade out his defensive line. The real evaluation will come in the two pre-season games — “when the bullets are flying” — so he won’t make any determinations on what the depth chart will read before then.
Winnipeg Free Press