Broncos find options limited by shorthanded roster
Daily News Sports Reporter
Typically, the only numbers a football coach will care about are the ones that show up on the scoreboard.
But Duncan Olthuis, head coach of the Kamloops Broncos, is a little concerned about the number of players on his roster with the regular season only two days away.
The Broncos are scheduled to open their B.C. Football Conference season on Sunday, 4 p.m., against the Chilliwack Huskers at Hillside Stadium. Kamloops has never made the playoffs, and is coming off a 2-8 campaign.
As is the case every year at this time, there is optimism all around the Broncos.
The reason for Olthuis's optimism is the team's skill, which he feels is enough to get it into the playoffs.
"Skill-wise, and how the systems are coming together, we're there," said Olthuis, who is heading into his second season as the Broncos' head coach. "We need depth, basically."
That might be something of an understatement.
Kamloops heads into the regular season with only 48 players, although Olthuis noted that "a couple" more will be arriving soon.
Either way, that's at least a dozen short of how many players a team needs to survive a grueling, 10-game season.
Olthuis doesn't seem too worried, though.
"I think we can do it; we'll be able to do it easily," he said. "We'll be about 50 for the season. We've got strength at each position, but need more depth."
Perhaps the biggest area of concern on the Broncos' roster is the offensive line, where Olthuis only has six players available - five starters and a substitute.
And although the linemen are big and strong, the options, beyond the starting six, are limited. If things go badly, Olthuis might have to plug holes on the offensive line with defensive players.
"I think we have six O-linemen right now, and that's not a concern as long as they're all healthy," said Broncos quarterback Jesse Neufeld. "If we lose one or two, it starts to get scary.
"The six guys we have, they're doing fine - they're fantastic."
Neufeld is one of two quarterbacks on the Broncos roster - he and Steve Schuweiler are battling for the No. 1 job.
It will be Neufeld's third season with the Broncos, after he went 44-for-112 for 662 yards and four touchdowns in 2011.
Mike McMaster, who rushed for 561 years - fourth in the BCFC - and five touchdowns last season, will stand to get a lot of touches, with Brennan Plante, Sean Poeppel and Derek Yachison leading the receivers.
"The offence, we're definitely meshing together really good," said Neufeld, a 20-year-old native of Leduc, Alta. "A lot of us have been together for two or three years now, and we're looking way better than the past two."
On the other side of the ball, the Broncos have lost Mitch Day and Drew Makortoff, two of their top linebackers from last season. Day is too old to play this season, while Makortoff, who led the league in points (tabulating all defensive stats), has decided to take the year off.
Ben Groenewegen, the son of former CFL guard Leo Groenewegen, has joined the Broncos and will play either defensive end or linebacker.
"Our defensive line, our interior, we're pretty good there, it's just that we're young," Olthuis said. "We're learning, and it's a process getting those kids up to speed."
The BCFC has something of a different look this season.
The directors decided in the offseason to handicap the schedule in the six-team league. What this means is that the league's top three teams (the Vancouver Island Raiders, Okanagan Sun and Langley Rams) will face each other more often, as will the bottom three teams (Kamloops, Chilliwack and the Westshore Rebels).
The Broncos will play three games against Chilliwack and Westshore, two against Okanagan and one apiece against Vancouver Island and Langley.
With the Sun and Raiders appearing strong as always, and Langley looking as good as anyone, it's probably in the Broncos' best interests to mostly avoid those teams.
But Olthuis isn't taking Kamloops' games against Westshore and Chilliwack for granted.
"Those are going to be six tough games, they aren't going to be gimmes," he said. "Chilliwack, we're basically the same team as Chilliwack - we've had their number in the past two years, but they've been close games."
With that in mind, Olthuis is expecting a fight on Sunday, especially with Chilliwack having gone 0-10 in each of the past two seasons.
"They'll be fired up to come up here, and they'll be ready," he said. "They haven't won a game in two seasons, and they're going to be hungry facing us - we're the team right above them, and they have a shot to do it."
EXTRA POINTS: Kamloops lost its lone exhibition game, 15-12 to the Sun in Salmon Arm on Saturday. . . . The team will be holding a Family Fun Centre near the stands during the game, with a bouncy castle for children. . . . In trying to create a more family theme for the season, the Broncos won't be having beer gardens at their home game. . . . The Broncos' other home games are scheduled for Aug. 12 (Okanagan), Aug. 25 (Vancouver Island), Sept. 30 (Chilliwack), and Oct. 6 (Westshore). . . . In Langley on Saturday, the Rams beat Chilliwack 70-0 in an exhibition game.