Go-to guy groomed by greats

WES GILBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:26 AM ET

Tim Johnson calls himself a "born leader."

It doesn't hurt the Calgary Stampeders middle linebacker has also had the opportunity to serve as understudy for two of the most reverred defensive field generals in four-down football.

Prior to joining the Stamps, the 31-year-old spent five seasons in the NFL, including stints as a backup to Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens and to Brian Urlacher of the Chicago Bears.

"You're talking about two first-rounders, two Hall-of-Fame guys," Johnson said.

"They just went to work. They didn't sit around or pull me around like a little dog, but I learned from watching those guys and I learned from being around them. They're just consummate pros. They go about their business, just like Donald Trump."

Just three-and-a-half weeks after arriving at McMahon Stadium, Johnson seems to have settled in as the centrepiece of the Stamps defence and as a go-to guy in the huddle. With the 6-foot, 240-pounder patrolling between the hash-marks, the Red & White have shored up a struggling run defence and rattled off three straight victories.

Johnson has already tallied 24 defensive tackles, ranking sixth on the squad even though he missed the first seven games of the season.

But it's his take-charge leadership abilities that his teammates can't stop raving about.

Stampeders pivot Henry Burris remembers Johnson from their days together at Soldier Field in Chicago and figured his club had unearthed a gem when they recruited the veteran linebacker during the bye-week.

"When I saw that we signed him, I was all smiles and clapping like a little seal waiting on a fish," Burris said. "To have a guy like Tim on your side, you're going to get the tenacity and the energy and the emotions. And when you've got a guy who's a true professional, he's going to not only approach his job that way but he's also going to teach the guys around him how to prepare.

"Now, you see guys in the film-room with him, studying film with him, understanding the keys and the reads that he's seeing, and that's why he is always Johnny on the spot. Whenever the ball is somewhere on the field, he's always around it."

In addition to brief stints with the Ravens and the Bears, Johnson spent four campaigns with the Oakland Raiders, where the highlight of his tenure was blocking a punt that was returned for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXVII against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After seeing most of his NFL action as a special-teamer, Johnson is thriving in an every-down role. His legendary ex-teammates would likely be proud.

"I think, to end up in those organizations, there's something those organizations saw in me that resembled Ray and Brian," Johnson said. "Nobody is trying to be Ray or trying to be Brian, but we are all similar and we do things alike, so I'll look like Ray one minute and Brian the next minute.

"To be spoken of in the same sentence as those two guys is just outstanding. They're good friends of mine, and I learned a lot from them."

WES.GILBERTSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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