Ticats' Johnson no longer a CFL secret

Hamilton Tiger Cats' Jamall Johnson, right, tries to escape a tackle from Edmonton Eskimos' Delroy...

Hamilton Tiger Cats' Jamall Johnson, right, tries to escape a tackle from Edmonton Eskimos' Delroy Clarke during their game in Edmonton, July 9, 2011. (REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

HAMILTON -- In the black and gold world he calls home, Jamall Johnson is a player of substance.

In the public domain outside that home, he is a man of mystery.

"Yeah, our Hit Man!" jokes kicker and teammate Justin Medlock, as Johnson passes a clutch of media gathered around the Ticats' kicker, who has been named special team's player of the week.

Johnson had nine tackles this week in a giant defensive performance against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He has not been named a special anything.

But, then, what else is new.

All Johnson does is quietly destroy offensive schemes, chase down running backs and make Buck Pierce into a You-Tube sensation. That last bit happened in the first game of the season when Johnson laid such a devastating hit on the Winnipeg quarterback it played big on the social networks.

"I think its maturity, experience ... that's making a good player into a great player," said Ticats coach Marcel Bellefeuille Tuesday. "He's playing under control more, making more open field tackles. He's athletic and very explosive. But he's also very intelligent, he's become a true professional."

Johnson leads the league in tackles with 22. Last year he had 101 tackles and five sacks and he has had to do most of it coming off the weak side, meaning he's often chasing down receivers and backs.

Johnson chuckles, quietly, knowingly. "We were looking at clips of the last game and it was second and short and the play went to the other side of the field. And, (Ticats' defensive back) Ray Williams asked me, 'how the hell did you see that.'" when he got in on the tackle.

"It comes from film studies; it's about seeing a key ... and just reacting. It's instinct, preparation and hustle ... just heart."

All of this, and somehow when the all-star team was announced last year, Johnson's name was not called. The three positions went to Toronto's Kevin Eiben, Montreal's Chip Cox and Johnson's Hamilton sidekick Markeith Knowlton.

Johnson had more tackles and more sacks than both Eiben and Cox and three more forced fumbles than Eiben. "Jamall got overlooked," Johnson's then-teammate, Otis Floyd, said at the time. "... our guys got shafted."

Johnson himself is more guarded in his appraisal of how he is viewed.

"As long as I get the respect of my team, other guys in this league," he said as the Ticats prepare to play his former club, the Lions, on Friday.

"I'm a humble guy," he said.

"I just have to believe I'm a good football player," he said.

"As long as we win," he said.

But it is evident that behind the curtain of political correctness there is a tickle of resentment.

"I don't know. I don't really keep up with that stuff (but) I'll be honest. I didn't make all-star last year (there is a pause, the hurt palatable) and that was a motivating factor to me."

So he has become a tackling machine. Motivation has always been the driving force behind Johnson. It is what eventually brought him to Hamilton. There were four, often frustrating seasons, in B.C. as a backup. That was after being cut by the NFL Browns. He left the Lions but was cut by the NFL Bucs. It can either kill, or feed, a man's motivation.

Then, two years ago, he found his niche, his golden opportunity, in Steeltown. "It was a long road. It does try you mentally. And, yeah, I thought I should've played more when I was in B.C. My teammates used to ask me why. You just have to keep faith that things will work out."

Work out, they have, with the Ticats signing him to an extension through 2013. He was voted a defensive captain last year. "His peers voting him captain empowers him, he's taken more of a leadership role," said Bellefeuille.

He has become a roommate and mentor to rookie defensive back Marcell Young.

"I just talk to him about having the opportunity to start as a rookie," said Johnson. "It took me four years to get that chance."

It is a chance, of which, Johnson is making the most.

"This is a good system for linebackers," said defensive co-ordinator Corey Chamblin. "He's done a lot of blitzing. He's having fun and we're just turning him loose and he's just doin' a lot of runnin' around."

Not to mention bumping into unsuspecting ball carriers with malicious intent. Some people are wondering how Pierce, who lost his helmet and felt his head as if he was surprised it was still on its hinges, ever got up.

All in a day's work for a linebacker.

"He's very aggressive on the field but maybe he doesn't get a lot of publicity because you don't hear him talk a lot like some guys," said Chamblin. "He just walks the walk. He doesn't promote himself as a good player. He just is a good player."

MEDLOCK'S PERFECT WEEK

Justin Medlock had a perfect week and he has the CFL special team's player of the week award to prove it.

But you won't catch the Ticats punter/place kicker believing he has a lock on his job.

In the CFL, with it's unique import player rules, there is never a sure-thing for a kicker with an American passport.

"I'm not a Canadian and I've got cut basically because of that," said Medlock, who has made all eight of his field goals while averaging 61.6 yards per kickoff and 39.6 yards per punt. "I think people know I'm a good kicker but I understand the business is what it is."

Medlock lost his job last year with the Argos due primarily to the import ratio. There was a pit stop in Edmonton who, through little fault of his place-kicking, dealt him to the Ticats. He won the award this week for hitting field goals of 11, 35, 42 and 43 yards and also recorded 140 yards on four punts and 447 yards on seven kickoffs but, he said: "It's early in the season. It's a long road, I started off strong in Toronto, and had a hiccup."


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