WINNIPEG – Buck Pierce doesn’t want to be labelled a fragile quarterback.
After the free agent signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Monday, he addressed concerns that he’s been injury prone during his five-year CFL career. One report last season said the former B.C. Lions starter suffered two concussions in 2009 and a total of five during an 11-month span.
Pierce said those numbers are “false.”
He confirmed one concussion last season, but noted he returned to action until an injury to his non-throwing shoulder in October ended his season.
“In my mind, there really is no number,” Pierce said of his concussion history.
“Things have kind of gotten so blown up and so spread out. You know, it’s kind of become like a fairy tale or like an urban legend or something. It’s a lot bigger than it is.
“I couldn’t even put a number on it. Last time I spoke to trainers, they cleared me. They said I was healthy and that’s what Winnipeg needed to hear and that’s what I needed to hear.”
The 28-year-old New Mexico State University product was released by B.C. last month after the Lions signed Casey Printers to a contract extension.
At the time, new Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice said the team may not be interested in Pierce because of concerns about his concussions.
“Once we spent time talking to the B.C. Lions medical staff and then we had our people talk to him, we said there would be no different problems than any other player,” LaPolice said after Monday’s news conference.
Pierce has played 86 regular-season games since joining the Lions in 2005, completing 65.2 per cent of his passes.
He started 34 games and posted a 21-12-1 record. His 93.6 passing efficiency rating is third in B.C. history behind Dave Dickenson and Printers.
Last season, he saw action in 12 games, including the first seven until he suffered the concussion. He returned for five games before injuring his shoulder.
He finished the season with 2,272 passing yards, 10 TD passes and 12 interceptions. He also rushed 39 times for 276 yards and one TD.
Pierce said he’s excited to have a new beginning with the Bombers.
And the six-foot-one, 215-pound QB doesn’t plan on changing his aggressive style of play.
“There is a risk and I can see that, but in my eyes I’ve done everything I can do to be the player that I am and be the person that I am,” Pierce said.
“That’s what they’re going to get. They’re going to get a guy that’s going to compete every play like it’s my last and I’m going to go out there and just give everything I can to this organization and get it to where it needs to be.”
LaPolice didn’t anoint Pierce as Winnipeg’s No. 1 pivot.
“It will be an open competition,” LaPolice said. “There is no one’s name as starter.”
Pierce was joined at the news conference by Bombers QBs Steven Jyles, Ricky Santos and Adam DiMichele, who are also in town to do some public appearances this week.
Missing was last year’s starter Stefan LeFors, who started four games before poor play and a shoulder injury sidelined him. He was replaced by Michael Bishop, who has been released.
Bombers general manager Joe Mack said the team is waiting to hear from LeFors about his future. However, the quarterback told The Canadian Press he’s quitting.
In a phone call from his Baton Rouge, La., home Monday evening, LeFors said he’s in the process of taking a non-coaching job at his alma mater, the University of Louisville.
“It was one of those things where I kind of lost the passion for the game and was kind of looking for something to do outside of football,” LeFors, 28, said.
Taking a $60,000 pay cut last year and the whole atmosphere around former Bomber head coach Mike Kelly played a “huge” role in his decision, he said.
“I kind of felt like I got thrown under the bus,” said LeFors, who was a backup in Edmonton for two seasons before Kelly traded for him.
“The offence didn’t do anything, but I think more blame was placed on myself than it should have been.”
Mack wouldn’t give details about Pierce’s contract, but it likely has incentives based on playing time.
Prior to last season, Pierce reportedly signed a three-year deal with the Lions worth $900,000.
“He understood that there’s been some injury concerns in the past and so he was sensitive to that from the club’s standpoint,” Mack said.
“(He) realized that he maybe couldn’t get something that was totally guaranteed, if you will, but I think it’s a very fair contract . . .
“If in fact he has a chance, which we hope, to compete and play for a number of games, he’ll be compensated.”
Pierce and Jyles are expected to battle for the starting job.
Jyles was the backup to Darian Durant in Saskatchewan last season, where LaPolice was offensive co-ordinator. He was signed by Winnipeg as a free agent.
Although it could appear that Pierce’s acquisition decreases Jyles’ chance to grab a starter’s job after four CFL seasons, Jyles didn’t see it that way.
“Buck is a great quarterback,” Jyles said. “I watched him for years in B.C., but I believe in myself and I know what I’m capable of doing.
“We have to see when camp comes. Get out there on the field and see who’s the better quarterback.”