Rested and re-fuelled, "Flight 87" is ready to take flight in Winnipeg once again.
Former Blue Bomber receiver/kick returner Albert Johnson III has re-signed with the local CFL club after a five-year absence. Johnson's pro football career started to soar in Winnipeg back in 2000 and he used that as a launching pad to get into the NFL. After two knee surgeries and a stint in NFL Europe, Johnson has decided to return to the scene where he made it a crime for opposing teams to kick to him.
"I knew I still had a lot of gas left in the tank and if I was going to come back, the one place I wanted to come back to was Winnipeg," Johnson said from his Houston, Texas, home yesterday. "Fortunately, the Grey Cup is going to be in Winnipeg and I know that (new head coach) Doug Berry will turn things around there."
Johnson assured that both knees have recovered.
"I had my last surgery two years ago and I still led NFL Europe in punt returns," said the exciting 5-foot-9, 180-pound speedster. "I'll be as fast as I need to be when the ball is kicked off.
"Things happen for a reason and I'm fortunate to be coming back to Winnipeg."
So are the Bombers. Johnson, 28, led the CFL in kickoff return yards (1,506), with the highest kickoff return average (24.7 yards), missed field goal return yards (277) and combined yards (3,241) in 2000, when he was named both the CFL's top rookie and most outstanding special teams player. He also set the record for the CFL's single-game combined yardage of 474. Johnson added 778 yards receiving.
"It's good to have him back," said Winnipeg GM Brendan Taman. "I never wanted to lose him in the first place and he's just too good a talent not to sign. I didn't want to have to play against him."
Berry recalled Johnson's exploits in 2000.
"He truly is an offensive weapon," he said in a statement. "With this signing, we just made an already potent receiving corps even more spectacular."
Nor is Taman concerned about Johnson's injury woes.
"I saw him play with Cologne (NFL Europe) two years ago and he looked like the same old AJ," he said. "He's rested up (the past year) so, he'll be fine."
Johnson also provides some insurance for the Bombers, who may lose kick returner/receiver Keith Stokes to free agency come Feb. 15, 2006.
"Yeah, I wasn't going to get caught short there," said Taman, who had discussed a new pact with Stokes at length since October. "I didn't get the impression we're that far off but he wanted to wait, which is OK."
But Johnson can't wait.
"I was amazed at how excited Brendan was," he said. "And I remember how the fans treated me and the organization there. I'm really looking forward to it."
He even has some of the warmer threads he needed while playing here in his closet.
"I'll just have to dust them off," he said.
HASHMARKS: Taman admitted that he will be keeping a close eye on the QB situation in B.C., where either Dave Dickenson or Casey Printers could become available ... Berry will discuss personnel needs with Taman next month, then scout various Bowl games down south.