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Tentative CBA deal allows for joyous opening of rookie camp for Bombers

Quarterback Bryan Bennett leads receiver Lucky Whitehead with a pass during Blue Bombers rookie camp on the University of Manitoba campus on Wednesday. (KEVIN KING/WINNIPEG SUN)
Quarterback Bryan Bennett leads receiver Lucky Whitehead with a pass during Blue Bombers rookie camp on the University of Manitoba campus on Wednesday - Kevin King/Postmedia

After months of labour uncertainly threatened to put a damper on training camp, the only thing that affected the opening day for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was a steady rain.

The threat of a player strike loomed over the opening of CFL pre-season training but everything came together just as the Bombers were preparing to step onto the field for the first time at rookie camp.

The Canadian Football League and its Players Association reached a tentative three-year deal early Wednesday on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. It is still in the process of being ratified by the players but the deal puts an end to talk of a potential labour action before the opening of main camps this weekend.

That made for a happy atmosphere for the Bombers rookies and the team’s coaches as they held their first practice on a cold, wet and windy afternoon on the soggy turf near IG Field.

“It’s hard to describe,” Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said. “Six years in (as head coach), you can’t help but feel so excited.

“I love it. I’m telling you, it’s a long off-season, watching film and making plans and when you finally get out here with players that are flying around, giving a lot of effort and taking coaching well and learning to communicate with their teammates, it’s all good stuff.”

A total of 55 players were on the field in the practice session, including veteran quarterback Bryan Bennett. However, veteran QBs Matt Nichols and Chris Streveler chose not to participate as the CBA had not yet been ratified.

“I respect their decisions as leaders,” O’Shea said.

O’Shea wasn’t sure if Nichols and Streveler would participate on Thursday.

Bennett, who was the third-string quarterback last season and played on special teams, consulted with Nichols and Streveler before making the decision to suit up on Wednesday.

“I needed to be out here and compete and do what I need to do,” said Bennett, who will get a challenge for his job from rookies Kevin Anderson and Sean McGuire. Both were on the field Wednesday.

“We all realize that last year Matt and Chris had bigger roles than I did and for me I’m still battling every day. There’s reps out there that I don’t think I could afford to miss.

“I had to think about it and make sure that it was the right decision for having my teammates backs. I talked to my teammates and they were in full support of my being here.”

Details of the new CBA were still emerging late Wednesday but it seems like a compromise was reached between the league and the players.

Among the wins for the players are an increase in post-career medical coverage from one to three years, revenue sharing from television rights and the CFL 2.0 initiative and a minimum salary increase from $53,000 CAD to $65,000 in 2020.

The old CBA was due to expire on Saturday.

“There’s obviously been some uncertainty but you trust in the P.A. to represent the players well and it looks like we’ve come to an agreement and we’re in the process of making all that happen,” Bennett said.

“That all I know about it.”

It was a potentially messy situation for the Bombers, like all CFL teams, as they were faced the prospect of having dozens of rookies in town and a potential strike on Saturday.

Instead, the team will hold three days of rookie camp at the Subway Soccer South outdoor field and then will open main camp on Sunday.

“It’s not anything that I worried about,” O’Shea said. “I was quite confident that not only would they get a deal done, but whatever they did, we were gonna be prepared for Week 1. We were just going to adjust the schedule and carry on and it would be just like we planned it.”

Among the other players who suited up Wednesday were four global players – linebacker Thiadric Hansen from Germany, along with defensive back Sergio Schiaffino Perez, linebacker Manuel Hernandez-Reyes and kicker Gabriel Amavizca Ortiz from Mexico. All the players were drafted as part of commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s CFL 2.0 project.

As part of the new CBA, CFL teams will be able to dress an additional player each game (45 in total), as long as one of them is a global player.

HEAVY COMPETITION ALREADY UNDERWAY

Wednesday marked the beginning of what is expected to be an intense battle for jobs in Winnipeg Blue Bombers training camp.

There are positions to be grabbed on the offensive line, at receiver, at linebacker and at defensive back and the Bombers hope that competition will produce a gem or two come the regular season.

“It’s great,” Bombers coach Mike O’Shea said. “It promotes a healthy competition and a knowledge coming in that you can earn something, I think, is a fantastic thing for any pro athlete. In terms of the coaching aspect, spending the time and watching the film and not rushing to judgment and making sure you get to know these guys so you can see how they’re gonna fit, besides their athletic ability and what they can do on the field it’s all very important. I don’t think it changes from year to year just because there’s a few more open spots. It doesn’t change the process that you go through, it just means there’s a little bit more time spent at each position.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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