Avery out, Johnson in

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:18 AM ET

Jeff Johnson prepares for every game as if he is going to start -- and now the York University product is going to get that chance in the biggest game of his career.

The Argos have decided to keep high-profile starting tailback John Avery on the injured list with a wonky hamstring, giving Johnson a chance to start in tomorrow's East Division final against the Montreal Alouettes at the Rogers Centre.

Johnson starred for the Argos in the final three regular-season games, starting the last two when Sean Millington suffered a ruptured achilles midway in the previous game.

Johnson played down his role as a starter in the playoffs.

"You just have to be a professional and get ready to go and know what you're doing and get ready to execute," he said. "It's nice to have a little bit more responsibility and to be able to contribute more. I felt like I wanted to excel on special teams before and contribute more in that facet of the game. Now I'm given an opportunity to contribute as a tailback, which is my natural position.

"As long as I know what I'm doing, I'm going to be comfortable and I'll sleep okay."

Avery said his hamstring is almost 100% healed, but his timing is lagging behind.

"Part of Jeff Johnson's competence is what made it easier for us to do the best thing for John," Argo head coach Pinball Clemons said. "He's running well, but he's not real comfortable back doing things just quite yet. What an amazing, amazing guy, though, the commitment he made to get himself ready; to get his body ready.

"Not only that, he cooked dinner at his house (on Thursday for all the running backs). They watched film together, so he's not just a great player; he has become a great leader on the team."

Avery said he didn't have a problem with the decision to keep him on the injured list, even though he dearly wanted to play.

"That's what I live for," he said. "It upsets you when you help lead the troops to the battle and can't actually fight."

BAGS UNDER EYES

Avery added his own brand of humour when asked how he has dealt with the stress of not knowing whether he would play.

"I don't know if you can see the bags under my eyes but I was up all night, tossing and turning," he said. "I kept having visions of me doing this and that. In my mind I'm still preparing myself like I'm going to play. It's like I keep seeing visions in my mind of certain things happening and I wake up and I've only been asleep for five minutes. I get up and play Playstation, cook some chicken, play Twister by myself. It's kind of hard to really relax when there's something on your mind that you love doing and you can't do it."


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