Thursday, February 27, 2014

Mid-February Roster Analysis: Winnipeg Blue Bombers Defensive Line

In part 4 of 6, we take a look at the Blue Bombers defensive line.

In 2013, the Blue Bombers defensive line had some dominant efforts, and some forgettable ones.  They finished up with 51 sacks, 15 of them by Alex Hall, who was traded late in the season to Saskatchewan. Other than Hall, the Blue Bombers did not feature any notable edge rushers.  What is notable about this group is the pass rush generated by the interior, in particular Bryant Turner and Zach Anderson.  They each finished with 7 sacks.

Let's take a look at who the Bombers have under contract at this point (as of February 28, 2014):


Bryant Turner (6'2 275 26) is entering his 4th season as a Blue Bomber and CFLer.  Zach Anderson (6'3 280 24) is entering his 2nd season as a Blue Bomber and CFLer.

Turner and Anderson are mainstays for the Bombers in the middle of the defensive line.  They are remarkably similar as smaller tackles who both lean towards pass-rushing more than run stopping.  Turner and Anderson can make some spectacular plays against the run when they win plays off the snap.  If they lose off the snap, the ball carrier is into the 2nd level immediately.  They are inconsistent against the run.  

This is a trade-off that the previous regime (and Tim Burke's defensive scheme in particular) preferred, playing with two three-technique (most effective in the outside gap of the guards) tackles rather having one three-technique and a nose tackle (inside gap of the guards). Anderson is young and he could develop into more of a nose tackle.

This raises two questions for training camp.  Does this preference for pass rush carry forward into the Walters-O'Shea-Etcheverry regime?  And, if it doesn't, are Turner and Anderson redundant?

Etcheverry is tough to read.  He doesn't have a lot of tendencies when it comes to lining guys up in certain spots snap after snap.  Generally he schemes to fit talent in, rather than fit talent into his scheme. Etcheverry likes to show different looks, and likes versatile players. Bryant Turner can line up anywhere on the defensive line and rush the passer.  Seems like a good fit.  Anderson is also a talented, high motor guy with some versatility.  I think we'll see some interesting fronts utilizing the abilities of Turner and Anderson.

Jason Vega (6'4 260 27) returns to the Blue Bombers after spending the 2013 season in the NFL.  Vega totaled 12 sacks in 26 games with the Blue Bombers in 2011 and 2012.  

Vega is a multi-dimensional player...something you don't see a lot along the highly specialized defensive line on both sides of the border.  He is a solid player who does his job and a little extra, against both the pass and the run.

Vega is an excellent pass rusher with multiple moves and a high motor. Unlike other "pass rush specialists," Vega is not out of the play if he doesn't beat the tackle around the edge off the snap or if he gets into a handfight.  Vega is an effective pass rusher from both the edge and from a three-technique position (outside gap of the guard).  This ability allowed the Blue Bombers to throw pure pass rushing fronts out against obvious passing downs in Vega's previous stint in Blue and Gold.

Vega will start at defensive end, and rarely leave the field.

Greg Peach (6'3 255 27) is entering his 6th CFL season, 2nd as a Blue Bomber.

Peach is Vega-lite.  He's not particularly great at any aspect of pass rushing, but he has a decent motor, he plays intelligent in terms of gap control, but he takes stupid penalties.  Like Vega, Peach is a versatile player.  He can play away from the line of scrimmage and drop into a zone or cover a running back coming out of the backfield.  Maybe this versatility will make him useful in an Etcheverry defense, but we can do a lot better in terms of pass rushers.

Ryan Lucas (6'6 280 29) and Jake Thomas (6'2 275 23) are both entering their 3rd year as a Blue Bomber.  They are the non-import contingent on the defensive line.

Both Lucas and Thomas are strictly interior defensive linemen.  They are both best described as "depth players."  Neither one is quite good enough to start, neither one is a threat to generate a consistent pass rush.  They are both at the level of coming in for 15-20 snaps a game, holding a gap, not having any major screw-ups and playing a role on special teams.

Lucas and Thomas should be able to take enough snaps on defense to form a 2nd NI starter on defense along with some snaps taken at LB and DB by other NI defenders.


The Bombers currently have two young defensive end prospects under contract:

JD Griggs (6'5 260 23) and Michael McAdoo (6'7 245 24).

We got to see them both in limited action at the end of the 2013 season.  They are both Alex Hall look-a-likes, tall and long.  McAdoo was a highly rated NFL prospect before running into some eligibility issues at North Carolina and then rupturing his achilles while a member of the Baltimore Ravens.  Griggs was right out of college in 2013, with a brief stop in the camp of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Big Picture-

The starting defensive line as of today (Feb 27) would look something like this:

DE Vega
DT Turner
DT Anderson
DE Peach/McAdoo/Griggs

The defensive line is a position of strength for the Blue Bombers, and there is really only have one spot up for grabs at rush end.  There is a strong possibility that the Bombers will use a DI spot on a third defensive end.

In terms of additions before training camp, another interior lineman, another edge rusher or two are likely, along with the potential release of Greg Peach before training camp as he is somewhat redundant with Vega back in the fold.  Another non-import or two would be nice to battle Lucas and Thomas for a roster spot.  Drafting Evan Gill with the 2nd overall pick and having him in training camp would change this picture quite a bit. 

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