Marshall Optimistic On D

New staff plans to lift Bombers out of doldrums
By Ed Tait
FORGET, for a moment, the questions about a rookie head coach taking over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Or the ongoing debate about whether Kevin Glenn can be a CFL marquee quarterback.

Those issues will still have meat on the bone long into the summer months of the 2006 season.

No, anybody who watched this sorry Bomber bunch try to play defence last year will insist that if this team to take a step back toward respectability after two horrible seasons, it will have to be led by the defensive dozen and the men who coach it.

Maybe that's why new boss Doug Berry, while introducing his entire staff at a press conference yesterday, couldn't stop beaming about the additions of defensive co-ordinator Greg Marshall, D-line boss Richard Harris and secondary coach Gregg Butler.

Oh sure, landing dominant middle linebacker Barrin Simpson in free agency helps. And Montreal Alouette all-star safety Richard Karikari would be a solid addition, too.
But the more Berry watches film of last year's defence -- and what a tortuous assignment that must be -- the more he is convinced having Marshall, Harris and Butler aboard is as huge as landing a marquee free agent.

"That's how I look at it," said Berry. "We've got three experienced coaches on defence. I know if I put those three guys in a room they can get things accomplished in a very efficient manner. I'm just ecstatic about those guys. Ecstatic. And I feel the same way about the offence, too."

Then again, it only March and every GM and head coach is giddy about their hand this far from the opening of training camp.

Still, Berry and his coaches would have believe the defence shouldn't be gutted entirely. Yes, the unit surrendered real estate quicker than France, circa 1940. And yes there were weeks when the defence stumbled around the field like a punch-drunk fighter.

But it is a group that also features the CFL rookie of the year in Gavin Walls and former all-stars in Joe Fleming and Doug Brown. The linebacking crew is already in the midst of an extreme makeover and there is experience in the secondary with the likes of Omar Evans, William Fields, Shawn Gallant and Anthony Malbrough.

It's also a defence that didn't surrender a TD in two of the first four games before defensive co-ordinator Rod Rust left. After that, well, no one needs to be reminded of those gory details.

"At the beginning of the year they were playing pretty good," Marshall said yesterday. "It looked like everybody was starting to understand what their job was and how to execute it and so they had a chance. Then, unfortunately, when Rod had to leave they changed what they were doing -- for whatever reason -- and it created some doubt in some players minds.

"It's like anything else: when you're confident in what you're doing and understand it and believe it you're able to go out and execute. But if you don't understand or aren't confident in it you play with hesitation and if you do that, you're already beat.

"We're not going to reinvent the wheel," Marshall continued. "We're going to put in a good, solid foundation and be fundamentally sound. That's our challenge. There's some good players here. We just have to get everybody on the same page and add our own flavour to it."
THE KARIKARI WATCH CONTINUES: The Bombers were still waiting as of last night for an answer from Karikari and their reported $130,000 offer. Word is the Bomber offer is significantly better than the Als, but Karikari is debating leaving a championship-calibre club -- and the only team he has played for -- to head west.

"I'm not in any rush," said Berry. "It's a long ways until the players start showing up here. It's not a panic situation by any stretch and I'm not sitting on pins and needles waiting. I'm a very patient person."