Blue Barrin best

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:28 AM ET

Officially, it's called the CFL's Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award.

This year, you might as well call it Miracle Worker of the Year. And you may as well get it over with and hand it to Blue Bomber linebacker Barrin Simpson right now.

What other way is there to explain what Simpson has done for the Bombers?

This was one of the worst defences in CFL history a year ago, remember? Nobody had ever given up more yardage per game.

Along comes the ordained Minister of Defence, and suddenly a unit that looked lame can not only walk, but actually cover CFL receivers.

Suddenly a group that acted blind at times cannot only see opposition ball carriers, but tackle them.

And a defence that was the lepers of the league last season finishes 2006 as one of the toughest to run or pass against.

"That's the thing I'm most proud of -- for us to go from worst to first," Simpson was saying yesterday. "That's something I will hang my hat on."

The Bombers have hung their whole season on it.

Ravaged by injuries and inconsistency on offence, this team lives and dies by its defence, and will continue to in the playoffs.

You could even argue Simpson is the team's outstanding player, period.

Just check the list of leading tacklers in the loop: Simpson's 110 is 27 better than the next guy, Saskatchewan's Reggie Hunt, and nearly double the next Bomber, Ike Charlton, who had 60.

Simpson hasn't made that many tackles since he was a rookie in '01.

Nobody was tougher to run against than Winnipeg (4.7 yards per carry), and it was almost always No. 51 leading the charge.

No doubt, defensive co-ordinator Greg Marshall had something to do with it, but last time I checked Marshall didn't make a tackle.

"I always thought he was a very good player, playing against him," Marshall said of Simpson. "But you don't appreciate fully everything people do until you get a chance to work with them and coach them. It's been a pleasure.

"Every great unit has a general on the field. He's done a good job of running the show out there ... and being the leader of our group."

Marshall says Simpson has done exactly what the Bombers hoped he would when they signed him on Day 1 of free agency last winter.

But, seriously, did anyone really see this coming?

Improvement is one thing. Heck, the Bomber defence couldn't have got any worse.

But from laughing stock to blue-chip stock?

"He should get a lot of the credit for it," D-lineman Doug Brown said. "Ever since Brian Clark left we've kind of had a leadership void on defence. He can lead vocally and he can lead by example. He's really put a face and an identity on this defence."

Not to mention, given it a conscience.

The same way Milt Stegall refuses to let the offence off the hook, Simpson drags his teammates back to the straight and narrow whenever it appears they're about to stray.

Unwanted by Wally Buono in B.C. after last season, it seems the change of scenery was the best thing that could have happened to Simpson.

Perhaps his most amazing accomplishment was looking at this mess of a team last February and deciding it could be saved. If he joined it, that is.

"I just wanted to go to a place where I was wanted and where a team believed in me, and would allow me to play to the best of my abilities," Simpson said. "As I looked over all the rosters, I felt this team could win. It just needed some pieces to help on defence.

"I felt we could turn it around and be winners. And we did that. The thing now is to try to take it to the Cup."

Did he say the Cup?

Doesn't he know it's been 16 years since this team won it all?

One thing we know: Simpson will try tackling that one, too. It's what he does.

Better than anyone else.


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