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Tait: Winnipeg Blue Bombers whittling down roster for season opener

Head coach Mike O'Shea needs players to begin separating themselves from the rest of the pack.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea congratulates Demond Washington (7) for his fumble recovery touchdown against the Toronto Argonauts during the second half of CFL action in Winnipeg Thursday, June 26, 2014.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JOHN WOODS

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea congratulates Demond Washington (7) for his fumble recovery touchdown against the Toronto Argonauts during the second half of CFL action in Winnipeg Thursday, June 26, 2014.

Dating back to his playing days, Mike O’Shea has always had a great appreciation for skill and pure ability. That's even more the case now, as head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

He saw it up close and personal during his 16 years in the Canadian Football League while sharing locker rooms with some of the game’s icons, like Doug Flutie and Michael "Pinball" Clemons, Earl Winfield, Paul Osbaldiston, Anthony Calvillo and Derrell Mitchell, among many, many others.

And he has it on his current Bombers roster, too, with players like Andrew Harris, Weston Dressler, Jamaal Westerman, Matt Nichols, Justin Medlock and Taylor Loffler.

But the Bombers head coach has also always had a fondness for the hard-hat and lunch-pail guys who make their living on special teams. Or the guys who work their way up from the bottom of the depth chart to a starting position.

And he appreciates toughness as much as anyone.

We bring all this up today with the Bombers' first pre-season game this Saturday in Regina against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. O’Shea and his staff have the unenviable task of whittling down a roster during a short training camp featuring just two pre-season games.

All of which makes a discussion he had with the media over the last few days on piecing together a lineup for the Canada Day season opener back in Regina so intriguing.

O’Shea doesn’t want to rush to judgment, but every coach needs answers ASAP. And that’s an interesting juxtaposition with the first dress rehearsal coming this weekend and a handful of starting jobs – namely, middle linebacker, No. 2 quarterback, kick returner, defensive tackle – still very much up for grabs.

They need to unearth the skill and mix it with the hard-hat guys. And they need players to begin separating themselves from the rest of the pack.

“As they say, the term is ‘don’t be an early evaluator,’” said O’Shea. “You want to give these guys as many opportunities, as many plays in practice, and more importantly in a game situation before you put down a hard evaluation. The game might confirm what you already suspect, good or bad.

“You’ve heard the term ‘gamer’ and we want to find those guys as well.”

We've previously said pre-season games often offer the entertainment equivalent of watching a tree form its annual ring. They can be tedious, mistake-filled affairs that leave coaches cursing and fans yawning.

Most of all, the pre-season often leaves everyone wanting to hammer down on the fast-forward button to the start of the regular season.

And yet it can also be riveting drama in watching players – both the future stars and the foot soldiers – fight for regular work or, simply, for their careers.

That’s all part of the two-worlds-colliding aspect of training camp and the pre-season: the score might not matter, but the individual results very much do.

Ed Tait is the Blue Bombers Director of Content. His columns will appear weekly in the Metro. Follow him daily at bluebombers.com

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