WINNIPEG — Kyle Walters says the Winnipeg Blue Bombers paid the price for not having enough depth and talent and he aims to change that in the off-season.
The team's general manager met with media on Friday and laid out some of his priorities after a season in which the club finished 5-13 and missed the CFL playoffs for a fourth straight year.
"When you have instability or injuries at that quarterback position and you're not deep enough organizationally to overcome those and figure out ways to win, you're exposed," Walters said. "And we were.
"What does that mean? I think we've made strides improving our talent, but we've got a long way to go."
Winnipeg used five different starting quarterbacks because of injuries and failed production.
The season began with No. 1 QB Drew Willy, but he suffered a season-ending fracture and partial torn ligament in his right knee on Aug. 9.
Backups Brian Brohm and Robert Marve didn't provide much spark and then Marve re-injured a knee. Winnipeg acquired veteran Matt Nichols in a Sept. 2 trade with Edmonton and Marve retired a few weeks later. Rookie Dominique Davis was given a look in the final regular-season game.
Nichols is one of about a dozen potential Blue Bombers free agents and has said he'd like to get a shot at being a starting quarterback. Willy will be ready to go at training camp.
Other potential free agents include receiver Nick Moore, running back Cameron Marshall, defensive back Demond Washington and kicker Lirim Hajrullahu.
Walters noted plans for improving the offence will become clearer once the team hires a new offensive co-ordinator following the decision earlier this week to not renew the contract of Marcel Bellefeuille.
But Walters's early evaluation didn't leave any unit untouched.
He'll look at how much the receiving corps was affected by the quarterback play and offensive system, but that's not an excuse.
"Calling a spade a spade, we need to be better with our receivers. It's as simple as that," Walters said. "We're not good enough as a receiving corps to compete with the better teams in the CFL right now."
The running backs also didn't produce many big plays, although starter Paris Cotton broke his arm in the same game Willy was injured and earlier injuries to prospects didn't help, he said.
He saw improvements with an offensive line bolstered last off-season by the additions of veteran centre Dominic Picard and tackle Stanley Bryant, as well as the play of rookie guard Sukh Chungh.
Still, Winnipeg allowed 59 sacks, second most in the league, although better than the franchise-record 71 last year.
Other factors played into that, Walters said, including receivers not getting open and quarterbacks having problems knowing "when and where to throw the ball and releasing it on time."
The defence also won't get off the hook.
"When you're struggling like we were offensively this year, it puts more stress on the defence," Walters said. "They're on the field too long.
"But you could make the case, well, the defence needs to step up and get off the field and give your offence field position. I don't think our defence did a good enough job at that at times this year."
For all the lows the team experienced in Walters' second season at the helm, he did take away positives about the performance of players such as Chungh, West Division most outstanding Canadian finalist defensive end Jamaal Westerman, receiver Darvin Adams, defensive back Johnny Adams and linebacker Khalil Bass.
"We all are frustrated. The fans, the organization, everybody is," Walters said. "Trying to focus on the positives, there were some things that we can build on."
Judy Owen, The Canadian Press