Fleming has his say

SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:31 AM ET

Somehow Sean Fleming kept the smile on his face.

If he was fuming, he hid it well. Whether he was mad at himself for poor performances or steamed at anyone else, he kept it bottled up.

But after staying in a self-imposed cone of silence for weeks, Fleming finally emerged last night, only hours after the Edmonton Eskimos had put another kicker on the practice roster, and just a few minutes after stating that he wanted to keep his lips sealed.

"I've always talked to the media and the fans and I never shied away from answering the tough questions, but sometimes you let it get to you mentally and you need to take a break," explained Fleming of his silent mode.

"Sometimes it's best just to fly under the radar."

But in Edmonton that's pretty much impossible. Although he didn't speak about it, Fleming knew full well that he was taking heat for making only 10 of 17 field-goal attempts - a paltry 25.1-yard average on his successes and a league-worst 59% connect rate.

Those numbers, though, aren't behind the Esks' rationale for bringing in Hayden Epstein, a University of Michigan product who spent time in Jacksonville and Minnesota as well as NFL Europe. The Esks needed an insurance policy after Fleming strained a groin muscle prior to the last game in B.C.

"Sean did a great job (against B.C.) and this has nothing to do with anything from two or three weeks ago," said head coach Danny Maciocia.

Fleming hasn't heard anything to the contrary. The Esks, he believes, are in no hurry to punt him and he figures he's still got what it takes physically to pull double duty. Mentally, however, he needs to adjust.

"I'm a very confident person but at times I tend to overthink things," said Fleming. "But I'm not at any sort of point where I think I should hang them up. I've been through this before, and there's nothing more satisfying than having the fortitude to wipe away the negatives and play through it."

In fact, Fleming has welcomed the newcomer.

"He's a veteran kicker and he's been teaching me a little more about the CFL," offered Epstein, a college teammate of Esks fullback Deitan Dubuc.

Fleming, the 14-year class act and two-time all-star, is very aware of the negative vibes, not only those he's created in his own mind but also those directed at him from fans.

He's been soundly criticized for his misses and for shanking punts. He was vilified for a perceived lack of willingness to make tackles on kick returns.

And that's just on the field. Off it, Fleming has been dubbed a "pretty boy" and ridiculed for dating a TV news anchorwoman. Much of it can be tossed aside as petty jealousy, but as someone who pays close attention to the newspapers and radio call-in shows, thick skin wasn't always enough defence.

"I'm considered a high-profile player and I'm in the spotlight even in the off-season," said Fleming. "I do TV commercials for a golf tournament, but I'm not promoting Sean Fleming. I'm promoting a charity and the Eskimos.

"When you're a high-profile athlete, you expect to be criticized, but I'm out there because it's just who I am. I guess you have to take your lumps because that comes with getting a lot of the glory. It's a trade-off.

"But ask anybody who was here when I was younger. I would run downfield like a madman and I averaged 14 or 15 tackles a season. A couple of concussions later, I figured out that that's not my job and I started to stay back. I've been criticized for running down there and criticized for doing the opposite."

When you have but one job to perform, it's expected that task will get done. Until all the kinks are out, Fleming will probably still hear about his failures.

Tuning them out, clearing the mechanism, has to be the aim now - one which will get his aim at the uprights back on target.


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