Kerry Johnson has quite a few things going for him in his quest to remain a member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
He is catching almost every pass thrown his way in training camp, he knows all five receiving positions in and out, and he added a little bit of speed over the winter by losing a little bit of weight.
And if he has to play special teams and block kicks to stick around, well, he'll do that, too. He does, after all, boast a superb tutor in ex-Bomber Gerald Vaughn, who just so happens to be the CFL's all-time leader in blocked kicks.
Johnson doesn't know exactly how, or even if, he's related to Vaughn -- "He might be a fourth or fifth cousin," Johnson said -- but they come from the same town of Oxford, Miss., their families are tight, their parents go to the same church, and Johnson and Vaughn work out together in the off-season.
"When I was little," Johnson said, "I used to carry around his (CFL player) card."
Vaughn, who retired from the CFL a few years ago, has actually taught Johnson a few special teams tricks during their off-season workouts over the years. Johnson would love to put them to use, but import receivers are seldom used as special teamers in the CFL.
So Johnson, 26, will have to rely on his hands if he's going to earn a starting spot. Through four days of camp, his mitts have served him well.
"I'm excited about this year," Johnson said. "I learned a lot from those guys last year, and now I'm ready to get in there and claim my own spot out there on this team."
The 6-foot-3, 206-pound pass catcher spent all but one week on Winnipeg's practice roster last season, his first in the CFL. In his only game action he had four catches for 49 yards against the Edmonton Eskimos in Week 3. Other than that the import receivers were remarkably healthy last season, and Johnson couldn't find a way on to the roster again.
The situation could be different this year if the Bombers use a Canadian safety, which would allow them to start four import receivers.
"We've got ratio considerations on defence, and if it goes the way we'd like it to it would open a huge door for Kerry," head coach Doug Berry said. "We're trying to make him more valuable by moving him around to different positions."
The import receiving crew in camp this year is topnotch, with newcomers Dan Sheldon, Romby Bryant and Aaron Fairooz also showing that they have the skills to play in the CFL. Johnson's advantage, however, is he has a better understanding of the three-down loop and the Bomber offence.
"Coach challenged me to learn all the positions, being a practice squad guy last year," Johnson said. "So I feel comfortable being just about anywhere on the field."
Berry said the fruits of Johnson's labour last year are quite evident this spring.
"The mental part is almost non-existent," Berry said. "He learned it all last year. Now it's refinement. When you're working in refinement it allows you to not worry about, 'Oh, am I doing the right thing?' but 'How am I going to do it now?' He's really learned. His body control has gotten a lot better.
"Last year, you look at the end of every practice. He was out there catching for another 10 or 15 minutes, doing something to make himself a better player. ... He's a guy who came back a lot better than he left here last year."