Careers on the line

Bomber Albert Johnson III is attempting to regain the form he showed in 2000 when he took...

Bomber Albert Johnson III is attempting to regain the form he showed in 2000 when he took rookie-of-the-year honours. (Sun Media/C. Procaylo)

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

It's all about the rookies, right?

Not so fast.

Sure, tonight's Blue Bomber pre-season opener might represent the only chance for newcomers to show they have a future in the CFL.

But it could also mark the end of some players with pretty impressive pasts.

There are veterans who've been under the gun since the start of training camp, pushed by talent that's younger, maybe half a step faster and, perhaps most important of all, cheaper.

Some even feel like rookies, having to prove themselves all over again.

GOING RETRO

Take kick returner Albert Johnson III, who's going retro in an attempt to rekindle the magic of 2000, when he posted the fourth-best combined yardage total in CFL history and took rookie-of-the-year honours.

"I'm kind of getting my mindset back to 2000," Johnson III was saying yesterday. "I'm growing the hair back out, I put the old rookie card back up on the locker ... I want to get back to the things I used to do."

If he does it tonight, he'll probably stick around. If not, who knows? There's a lineup of players willing to take his job for half the paycheque.

Funny thing is, players like Johnson III and receiver Chris Brazzell have relied on their speed their whole careers, and now they're trying to outrun the end of them.

Not to say that Johnson, 29, and Brazzell, who's 31, are anywhere near finished.

But they're at that stage where they have to prove they're not just as good, but better, than the younger, cheaper guy in the next locker.

"I've been doin' this for seven years now (in the CFL), nine years total, so I understand how this game works," Brazzell said. "You're trying to stay ahead of the young guys. Some receivers get cut because they're just not fast enough. They can't get open anymore. I see it happen all the time. I can still do it.

"I'm not playing forever. But one thing about Chris Brazzell: I'm still fast. I've had a great training camp. There's no fear. I don't even know the last time I ever had any fear of not making a team."

Maybe. But Brazzell is coming off a so-so season, and he knows it. Once that flicker of doubt is in a coach's mind, it's hard to erase.

Bomber boss Doug Berry has made no bones about it: some jobs are like those passes that are tipped at the line -- they're up for grabs.

"One that everyone is aware of, including Chris Brazzell, is the spot that he plays," Berry said. "Chris has had an outstanding camp, but that's just an example of a veteran who's played here before feeling the pressure. It will depend on how well they play as well as the things they can't control -- how well the other guy plays."

That sound you hear is the salivating of Terrence Edwards and Quentin McCord.

Don't be surprised if a couple of veteran O-linemen are treating tonight's game a little differently, too.

Matt Sheridan, for instance, who's coming off an injury-plagued season, his sixth in the CFL.

Sheridan and 13-year vet Val St. Germain have been competing for the same guard spot, so you'd think something's got to give there.

"This is a sink or swim business," Sheridan began. "I pride myself on being a competitor, to the point where I won't accept sinking."

St. Germain didn't make it through 13 years by backing off, either.

This past off-season the 35-year-old got a taste of life after football when he took a job selling cars.

And how was he at peddling Cadillacs and Chevys?

"I prefer football," the big guy said.

So keep an eye on the new help tonight, by all means.

But if you see some old hand playing like it's his last game, not the first game of the pre-season, you'll know why.

Because it might be.


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