In our fourth installment of 2021 CFL team previews, here's a look at what to expect from the defending Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers this season.
Interestingly, the Blue Bombers narrowly avoided disaster in 2019, finishing the regular season 11-7 before catching fire in the playoffs and running the table on their way to an improbable Grey Cup championship.
The Bombers are well positioned to challenge for the Grey Cup again this season with the nucleus from that championship team remaining intact and still under the guidance of head coach Mike O'Shea. In keeping with CFL tradition, the Bombers welcome a former starting quarterback to take over the reins as offensive coordinator with Buck Pierce getting the nod. Pierce takes over from Paul LaPolice, who is now the head coach in Ottawa. LaPolice squeezed every bit of production he could out of this dare-I-say middle of the road offense talent-wise. Can Pierce continue the offense on the same path in 2021?
QB Zach Collaros and RB Andrew Harris return to the fold to lead the offense. Both do have plenty of miles on them at this point of their careers, however, and the Bombers will obviously need them to stay healthy to contend in a crowded West Division. I would suggest that Winnipeg doesn't have quite the same wealth of talent at the wide receiver position as perhaps the Lions, Riders and Stampeders possess.
Defensively, the Bombers have few weaknesses, keyed by what should once again be one of the league's most-feared pass rushes. That unit is anchored by Willie Jefferson, the league's reigning Most Outstanding Defensive Player after leading the CFL in sacks and forced fumbles in 2019. A number of Bombers defensive players trained together in the offseason - you might not find a closer-knit defensive group in the league.
Despite serving as defending champions, the Bombers actually enter the 2021 campaign with a chip on their shoulder thanks to some considering their 2019 Grey Cup title a 'fluke'. Of course, the truth is that their title run was anything but a fluke and this team ranks as one of the league's most complete squads heading into the new season.
Winnipeg is currently priced around 6-1 to repeat as Grey Cup champions.