FRIESEN: Rose hopes to blossom with Bombers
The tulips are blooming in my back-yard garden, but when I dropped in at Blue Bombers training camp on Tuesday, I couldn’t help but notice the Rose.
New cornerback Winston Rose seemed to pop up regularly during the four-hour session, and the free-agent addition from the B.C. Lions attracted the largest swarm of news bees after it.
The leading candidate to replace released veteran Chris Randle, Rose pollinated the media scrum with positivity, much like he tries to do every time he steps on the field.
“PVO,” Rose calls it. “Positive vibes only. It just trickles down. If you’re out here having fun, everybody else is going to have fun.”
Rose certainly had a good time going high in the air to break up a pass intended for Darvin Adams, one of the highlights of Day 3 of camp.
Another was when towering receiver Chris Matthews went high over the top of Rose to snag a ball.
There was nothing prickly about Rose’s reaction, though.
“He made a catch, and that’s just great competition,” the 25-year-old said. “He’s a big-body guy. Tall tree. He’s going to make me better every day. So I can go against any guy that’s his size, and I’m not going to shy away or nothing.”
While Matthews and defensive end Willie Jefferson were the free-agent acquisitions that got the most attention, planting Rose on the wide-side corner could provide a splash of colour to the secondary.
After short stints with Toronto and Ottawa, Rose is coming off his first full CFL season with the Lions, where he tied for the team lead with five interceptions.
The Los Angeles product, a self-described “ball hawk,” feels he’s ready to blossom, maybe even put down some roots, here on the prairie.
“Last year was just a stepping stone, just showing who Winston Rose is,” he said. “So coming into Winnipeg and seeing what they did last year, just one game short of the Grey Cup, I just felt like me contributing to the team would help us get there and win us one.
“Yeah, I’m tired of moving from team to team. I want to make a home. I feel like Winnipeg is the right fit.”
Rose says he’s big on family, so the family atmosphere he feels with the Bombers suits him to a tee.
He’s also big on video, and the Bombers near-miss in last year’s West Final in Calgary caught his attention.
“I get the vibe that, OK, we were one game away from the Grey Cup, so we know what it takes to get there,” he said.
“So now you have to come in, buy in… and we’re gonna get there. They were probably two opportunities away from making the play, so they’re not taking a step back. We’re only taking a step forward. I sense that we’re all on the same page and want the Grey Cup.”
Getting everybody on the same page in the secondary is Job 1 in camp, with three changes to the starting five: Randle, fellow corner Kevin Fogg and all-star safety Taylor Loffler are all gone.
Rose at least brings some experience to what can be a lonely position.
“Today was a real slick practice for him,” head coach Mike O’Shea said. “He seemed like he covered well, he runs well. You can hear him out there, he was getting a little chatter going. He was quite noticeable.”
His new teammates noticed, too.
“Our secondary’s a little younger than it was last year… but bringing in Winston helps a lot,” safety Jeff Hecht said.
“He’s a very intelligent player.”
Rose’s competition includes 24-year-old Chris Humes, who spent most of last season on the practice roster but led the Bombers with eight tackles in the regular-season finale, and Joe Este, a raw rookie who’s also 24.
Rose has been the first to really get noticed.
“That’s what I do, man. I come in, contribute and just bring that energy to the defensive side. Last year they had a lot of takeaways, and I had takeaways, too. So I just want to bring my skill set and what I do to this team, so we can win this Grey Cup.”
With his positive, team-first attitude, O’Shea and his coaching staff would probably take a dozen Roses.
The feeling, apparently, is mutual.
“I just feel love,” Rose said. “I feel like I’m at home.”
Alexander fills leadership void
The Blue Bombers watched a combined 13 years of CFL experience walk away from their secondary with the off-season departures of Chris Randle, Kevin Fogg and Taylor Loffler.
Randle was the undisputed leader of the defensive backs, leaving a void head coach Mike O’Shea is confident will be filled.
“Brandon Alexander,” O’Shea responded, without hesitation. “He’s the guy. Absolutely.”
Entering this third season as a Bomber, Alexander was the team’s top rookie in 2017, and signed a two-year contract extension this past February.
The 25-year-old, who had 36 tackles, three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles last season, says gelling off the field is the first step to forming a cohesive defensive backfield.
“That’s the most important thing, is that we understand each other,” Alexander said. “When we connect with each other first, everything will take care of itself on the field.”
O’Shea says it starts with communication, which players and coaches have identified as an issue in the past.
“When those six defensive backs have to work so well together and when there’s a safety in the middle and guys on either side, they really have to have their own form of communication that works for them,” the coach said. “So it’s always being pushed on them and that’s going to take a little bit of time. We’re demanding it… we need to communicate every single day, every single play, because it’s important.”