WINNIPEG — It’s hard not to spot linebacker Barrin Simpson on the football field.
He’s the Blue Bomber wearing the big grin because he’s so glad to be back for a ninth CFL season after missing 14 games and one playoff contest last year because of a torn pectoral muscle.
“You know it,” Simpson said after Thursday morning’s practice. “I’m a happy camper right now.”
No to mention a healthy camper.
The middle linebacker was injured in the Bombers’ fourth game last season and had to have surgery. While his arm was healed late in the campaign, the team already had its lineup meshing with the addition of Zeke Moreno.
“I understood the business side of it, so it wasn’t a big deal,” Simpson, 31, said. “I love football, so I went out and had fun on scout team.”
But it wasn’t always easy for the six-time CFL all-star to be a spectator, especially coming off a 2007 season where he was second in the league in defensive tackles (111). Moreno had 114 with Hamilton.
“It was brutal,” said Simpson, who’s led the league in tackles four seasons, the most recent in 2006. “I had never been hurt. My seven previous years, I played 130 games straight, probably missing one or two practices.
“That was a downer for me, but I had to stay positive. I was blessed to be able to have the surgery and get back as quick as I did.”
Not once did Simpson – an ordained minister – think his career might be over.
“Oh no, no, no,” he said. “That never crossed my mind because I work too hard. One thing is guaranteed – I’m going to be in shape and ready to play.”
What he did wonder, though, was whether he’d fit in with the Bombers’ new regime when head coach Doug Berry was fired after the season and replaced with Mike Kelly.
“I thought about leaving, I thought about maybe starting somewhere else new, starting fresh. But one thing about Winnipeg, I wanted to come here when I came in 2006,” Simpson said.
“I had the same opportunity, the same offer in Hamilton that year, but I chose Winnipeg because, one thing, it was hard as heck to play in here when I was with B.C.
“We hated coming here. The fans are great, it’s a great atmosphere. When I came here, I felt like I wanted to retire here.”
Retirement isn’t in the near future because the Bombers re-signed Simpson in January to a new deal for one year and an option.
“He reminds me of linebackers of old,” Kelly said. “He plays with tremendous determination, he’s explosive at the point of attack, he’s intelligent. He has all those qualities that we’re looking for in an inside linebacker.
“And I thought it was important, in a leadership role also, that we keep him around.”
Kelly traded Moreno to Toronto in the off-season, but retained middle linebacker Joe Lobendahn, who initially replaced Simpson last year, but then got injured, too.
Bombers defensive co-ordinator/linebackers coach Mark Nelson said he’s not sure how the linebacking crew will play out because a number have been injured during training camp, including Lobendahn with back spasms and Simpson with a groin pull that’s now fine.
The Bombers may occasionally switch from four defensive linemen and three linebackers to a 3-4 package and that could get Simpson and Lobendahn on the field at the same time.
“Barrin brings a lot to the plate,” Nelson said. “First of all, he’s a good person and he’s a leader. He’s the kind of guy you want to have on your team. Besides that, he’s a good football player. He’s the complete package.”
Simpson may also play an interesting role on special teams.
He’s switched his jersey number to former quarterback Kevin Glenn’s No. 5 from his usual 51, which means he’ll wear a number (one to 49) that makes him eligible to catch a forward pass.
Special teams co-ordinator Rick Campbell suggested the change, but Simpson had already been thinking about it after last season.
“I wanted to do something new, a fresh start in a new number,” Simpson said. “I always wanted to wear a single digit.”
Notes: Kelly was holding “Geezer Guy Day” in the afternoon by letting about 17 of his players born in 1979 or earlier watch the second practice from the sidelines. And he was going to serve them Booster Juice supplied by former Bomber fullback Wade Miller’s business. … Outside LB Siddeeq Shabazz, acquired in a trade with Edmonton, won’t hit the field for a couple weeks because he twisted his ankle wrestling with his brother in their front yard just before camp opened.