QB comes out of Blue

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 2:00 PM ET

Funny, isn't it, how sometimes the most pleasant surprises come right out of the blue?

Take Blue Bomber hopeful Russ Michna, for instance. How many people in these parts had even heard of Michna before training camp began?

If you hadn't, you've got something in common with Milt Stegall.

Some 28,000 fans sure noticed Michna Thursday night. He was the guy who looked like he's been throwing balls in the CFL for years.

He also happened to be the best of Winnipeg's quarterbacks, for the second straight week.

It wasn't supposed to be like this.

A recent cut of the NFL's St. Louis Rams, Michna was a late addition to camp, leading most of us to believe he didn't stand a chance of unseating Tee Martin or Spergon Wynn for a job behind anointed starter Kevin Glenn.

Well, if Michna isn't on this team's 40-man roster after today's cut-down, it's time for a public inquiry. Either that, or we'll have to get the men in the white coats to pay head coach Jim Daley a visit.

Because you'd have to be crazy not to keep this Chicago-born lefty around.

Michna didn't just look comfortable and confident in the huddle, he actually moved the ball, and in two pre-season games plus an intra-squad scrimmage is the only pivot to get his team into the end zone.

After Thursday's game, Michna reacted less like a guy who'd staked a claim for a roster spot, and more like someone who'd just come home from another day's work.

"You go out on the field and you expect to score," he said, shrugging his shoulders.

Yeah, but a raw rookie who's just 24?

I mean, Daley himself insists it takes quarterbacks years to pick up the three-down game. Just look at the cautious way he's eased U.S. college sensation Tee Martin into action.

So what's a guy from Western Illinois, a Division 1-AA school, doing figuring out CFL defences in his first look at them?

"I'll admit, the first couple of days we went out on the practice field, I was embarrassed," Michna said. "(But) it's still just throwin' and catchin' and protectin' and runnin' the ball. It's still football."

Michna is obviously one quick study, as his 3.78 GPA in finance at Illinois suggests.

Stegall, the future hall-of-fame receiver, calls him a "great observer" -- and anything but your typical rookie.

In team meetings, for instance, Michna actually speaks up.

"I'm looking back, like, 'Is that Russ talking?' Rookies usually don't say anything, but he's talking and he's correcting," Stegall said. "That's a typical quarterback. They know it all, and they want to be the speaker.

"And 99% of the time, he's right. If he was wrong, I'd definitely correct him and let him know to shut up. But if somebody's right, what are you going to say?"

And if he plays like he has, what are you going to do?

"It seems like he steps on the field and he's just out there having fun," Stegall said. "Like, 'No holds barred -- what have I got to lose?' Thank God I don't have to make that decision."

Just five weeks ago, Michna was thought to be a leading candidate to become the Rams No. 3 quarterback. You sense some bitterness at how that turned out, but none over his being forced to settle for the CFL.

"Any time you're playing football, it's not settling," Michna said. "You gotta get a paycheque here and there. And you get to play a game -- what else can you ask for? There isn't anything better in the world to me."

Asked if he thinks he's earned his first pro job, Michna lets out a deep breath, showing a slight crack in that cool demeanour.

"I hope so," he said. "That's all I can do, is hope."

Actually, he's done more. Much more.

Enough to be a Bomber -- right out of the blue.


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