August 21, 2014

Campbell: REDBLACKS welcome back Johnson

OTTAWA – As a former Most Outstanding Defensive Player in the CFL, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Jovon Johnson makes for a grumpy, impatient and uneasy spectator.

The great ones live to play. That might help explain why the league’s best in 2011 on the ‘other’ side of the ball while a Winnipeg Blue Bomber is re-joining the Ottawa REDBLACKS lineup a full three weeks ahead of the doctor’s schedule after a bicep injury.

The doctors had Johnson returning in mid-September. Johnson, on the other hand, had Johnson returning as soon as possible. So Johnson won out and will be back in the REDBLACKS lineup this Sunday to face the Calgary Stampeders.

With the team coming off their most impressive defensive showing last week in losing a nail-biter to the Edmonton Eskimos, Johnson’s return can only help in further stabilizing a young unit.

And Johnson never wants to spend time on IR again.

“I never knew what it was like to be injured,” said Johnson, a welcome sight at his defensive back position in his first full practice. “I have never dealt with injury.”

“I haven’t missed a game since I could even remember, never in high school, never in college, never in the CFL until this year.

“When they said six weeks, I was thinking ‘no’ . . . it can’t be that long. But you can’t go against the doctors. They know more than me.”

“It’s just difficult watching from the sideline knowing that you could be out there helping your team, but at the same time those guys went out there and played tremendous for us.”

Just the same, the REDBLACKS numbers without Johnson don’t lie.

Yes, the expansionists lost all three games he missed after injuring the bicep late in a game against Hamilton July 26th. That is no surprise.

More alarming was that the REDBLACKS were outscored 86-41 in the three games with Johnson on Injured Reserve. Heading into a key stretch of games in September with East division rivals after they get through with Calgary, Johnson’s return should give the unit a boost.

“I did a good job coming in early with the trainers and doing what they wanted me to do and they did a tremendous job working with me and building my strength and endurance in my shoulder,” said Johnson, who will exchange his warm-up suit for his familiar No. 2 jersey. “So I just went in every day and worked hard with my treatment and did whatever the training staff asked of me. And I think a big part of it has to be genetics.”

“But considering this was the first time I ever watched from the sidelines . . .”

Johnson got a lift after a follow-up visit with doctors last week.

“They were ecstatic with how it seemed.” said Johnson, who in turn feels the same way about getting back on the field.

He even thinks the REDBLACKS are on the verge of something better, after dropping four straight to fall to 1-6. That kind of record means a team in the East does not lose sight of the other division rivals.

“It took a little bit of time for us to gel but we’re starting to get it together,” Johnson said. “We’re coming together as a team and it’s starting to show for us. Hopefully I can bring some leadership to the back end and we won’t be so young out there anymore and we can continue to get better.”

The addition of Johnson is just one of several roster moves the REDBLACKS will make before the Calgary contest.

The team has said goodbye to some veterans already and more will be under the gun as the NFL final cut-down day approaches.

After releasing receivers Paris Jackson and Tim Maypray, along with defensive back Seth Williams, the REDBLACKS signed on national defensive back Hugo Lopez, international wide receiver Kevin Cummings, international linebacker John Kanongata’a and international quarterback Alex Carder. Carder was added to the team’s active roster while the others were added to the practice roster – not that anything is for sure until closer to game time.

“We’ll see how it all plays out during the week,” said REDBLACKS head coach Rick Campbell, on the possibility of lineup changes.

“The motivation is not to try and shake things up, we’re not trying to send messages (or) any of that. We’re just trying to get better. We’re a new team that’s just trying to put as many pieces of the puzzle together as fast as we can and that’s really what we’re doing.”

“At this time of year, as the NFL gets going, we’re always going to be looking. And some of the young guys already here have stepped up and we’re looking forward to seeing some young guys play. We feel like some of them have shown that they deserve a chance to play.”

The REDBLACKS will also have a different look with the franchise’s signature third jersey.

That means a little plaid on the shoulders, though their plaid helmets won’t be ready in time.

And they also expect to sellout at TD Place for the fourth straight home game.

On the downside, the Stampeders expect to activate running back Jon Cornish, the league’s Most Outstanding Player a year ago.

Considering the Stampeders put a 38-17 thumping on the REDBLACKS two weeks ago, the last player Ottawa wants to see back in a Calgary uniform is Cornish

“I spoke with Jon in Calgary – I mean I coached him – and he said he was targeting his return for this week,” deadpanned Campbell. “I asked him if maybe he could wait one week longer.”