Johnson is a driven man

TERRY KOSHAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:21 AM ET

Now that he reflects on it, Jeff Johnson figures that snapping his left ankle last September was not such a bad thing.

Sound strange? Yes. But the injury, which the Argos running back suffered in a game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, gave him a perspective he had not experienced.

"It was almost like a blessing," Johnson said yesterday morning after the club practised in the pouring rain at the U of T's Erindale campus. "I have never had to overcome an injury like this and it gives you extra drive. It lights a fire under your ass."

Where that drive takes Johnson with the Argos in 2008 is not clear. Toronto acquired running back Tyler Ebell from the Edmonton Eskimos in the off-season and Andre Durie has been getting plenty of action in the early days of training camp.

What seems obvious is Johnson, who could start at tailback, will continue to get lots of time on special teams. At 5-foot-9 and 212 pounds, the Toronto native is built like a pile of bricks and has been a tough cookie in his tenure with Argos. Johnson had an excellent career at York University and spent a couple of years with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats before signing with the Argos in 2002.

"I've always viewed Jeff as a starter in this league," Argos head coach Rich Stubler said. "He gives us great depth, he is a terrific special teams guy, a leader, he is a great everything. When he had a chance to carry the ball before he got hurt, he did well."

Yet Johnson, whose career high in rushes was in 2006 when he had 54, knows that chance won't always be on the next play.

"If I thought in terms of carries (per game) from what I have seen (at camp), I would probably be disappointed," Johnson said. "If I am touching the ball only twice a game, I want to make sure (I'm successful). In my heart, carrying the ball (is his main desire).

"But learning special teams was something that opened my eyes, and I love it. If it's special teams, fine. I'm going to run my ass off and go get that guy or block someone else so we can score a touchdown."

The 31-year-old Johnson and his wife Kelly became parents of daughter, Maya, a month before he was hurt. When he was injured, certain aspects came into focus.

"I was crushed for that first month after I got hurt," said Johnson, who got his real estate licence in the off-season. "We had a baby girl at home, I had never been out (of the lineup) before, and my wife had to handle everything.

"From both sides (team and family), it felt like I was letting down a lot of people. But I realized after that first month there was the opportunity to make the best of this and come back stronger and faster than I have before, and I did. I feel great."


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