TORONTO - He wouldn’t do it because they would not be physically prepared, but Jim Barker probably could leave Bryan Crawford and Jeff Johnson on the sideline until the opening kickoff of the Argonauts’ regular-season opener.
That’s the level of trust the Argos head coach and general manager has in Crawford and Johnson. While the Argos’ success in the long run revolves around the play of Cory Boyd, Chad Owens, Jeremaine Copeland and whoever wins the No. 1 job at quarterback, players such as Crawford and Johnson, a pair of proud Canadians, are invaluable. The machine needs durable parts to run smoothly.
“The core of what makes your football team are guys like Jeff and Bryan,” Barker said after back-to-back practices at Erindale on Thursday.
“They are completely reliable, they are consistent. You never have to worry about them on assignment busts, because it is so rare.
“You talk about players who are untouchable, guys like that are untouchable.”
Crawford’s rise on special teams took root several seasons ago, but he ascended to the top of the heap in 2010 when he led the Canadian Football League with 26 special teams tackles. Three times on fake punts, Crawford gained the yardage necessary for a first down in games the Argos eventually won.
Johnson started 17 games at fullback, and though he was not featured often, rushed the football 26 times for 141 yards and two touchdowns and caught 15 passes for 83 yards and one major.
In simple terms, Crawford and Johnson make the plays when they are needed. Johnson was under contract after last season, but the Argos didn’t let Crawford get anywhere near free agency, re-signing the 29-year-old in January, more than a month before the free-agency period kicked in.
“I’ve been really fortunate to carve out a pretty good niche in this league,” Crawford, 29, said. “To look back seven years ago (when he was drafted 44th overall), maybe I was a guy that not much was expected of.
“But I look at it like I can be a huge contributor to the success of our team. You can do all those things you do at other positions in terms of making a name for yourself. I’m trying to run with it and lead by example.”
Johnson turned 34 in February and is among the oldest players on the Argos roster, behind only Noel Prefontaine, Rob Murphy and Copeland in grey hairs. Crawford is about to start his seventh season, but Johnson is on the cusp of making his CFL career an even dozen years.
That adds up to a lot of experience in any profession, and for Johnson, there’s a lot more than meets the eye of the average fan.
“It’s about a love of the game and also an understanding of what you need to do to take care of yourself,” Johnson said. “With time you start to figure out what you need to do.
“In the beginning, I used to push it too much in the off-season, and then I would come in and have something that would not take me out of a game, but would nag me for a few weeks.
“As the years go by, it’s about pace. Rest is the magic secret weapon that a lot of youngsters don’t know about. You have to peak at the right time.”
Johnson’s cut-from-stone physique doesn’t look like it changed much during the winter, but there was a subtle change for the Toronto native. He concentrated more on his core and hips during workouts.
“I absolutely feel a lot quicker with the ball,” Johnson said. “There was a play in the flat, I had the ball and was running full speed, and I know I could have changed direction like I used to. It felt great.”