Close not good enough

JIM BENDER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

He may not be the man of happy returns just yet.

But Jason Armstead is getting there.

In fact, Winnipeg's return game has already gotten much happier since he arrived on the scene five games ago.

In that short time, Armstead has returned 16 kickoffs for 396 yards, with an impressive 24.8-yard average. He has also run back 28 punts for 285 yards and a solid 10.2-yard average.

And he has come close to breaking several returns for touchdowns.

"I was just telling one of my teammates that I'm tired of getting close," the 5-foot-10, 160-pound speedster said yesterday. "I might as well go ahead and finish. So it's one of those deals where it all comes with timing so hopefully we'll get a chance (against Edmonton) this week."

Armstead, 29, has returned three punts for touchdowns over his nomadic five-year CFL career but no majors from either a kickoff or missed field goal return. But he has already returned one kickoff 98 yards since becoming a Blue Bomber this past August.

"I think I've done pretty good," Armstead said. "Just a few little mishaps. I need to secure the ball more. As for overall performance, the guys are giving me great holes to run through. I've been breaking down the other teams to see where we can kind of take our shots at as far as kick returns and punt return-wise. And we're gelling, for the most part."

Ah, those mishaps would be those balls he has coughed up to the opposition, one of the reasons why the Montreal Alouettes released him earlier this season.

"I very seldom fumble the ball and it seems like this year, it's just been crazy," said Armstead, who has lost two of three fumbles in just five outings. "It's just one of those things where you need short-term memory, get it out of me and just try to move forward.

"I thought it was going to plague me again last game (against Hamilton). I started out and lost one and the team got it back for me (right away) and I told myself, 'That's enough. Let's go. Forget about it, catch it, secure it and get what you can.'"

Maybe that is why Armstead rebounded with his best game as a Bomber. He returned three kickoffs for 98 yards, including one for 46, adding 91 yards on three punt returns.

Before the Bombers signed Armstead, their return game was in a state of flux. First, they experimented with tailback Fred Reid handling both the kickoff and punt return duties for the first time and that failed miserably.

Then, tailback Charles Roberts was given a shot at returning punts but those were an adventure because he bobbled so many.

Defensive back Jovon Johnson then took over and was quite decent at it but not spectacular.

"I was given a call to come in and help out and that's what I've been trying to do, and that's the thing I need to do as long as I'm a part of the Blue Bombers," Armstead said.

And Bomber head coach Doug Berry seems to be much more at ease with that aspect of his special teams.

"We have had a few good returns lately," he said. "Jason Armstead getting used to the guys around him a little bit. He runs with a little bit of anticipation now. Even (recently acquired running back) Joe Smith, on kickoff returns, has given us good field position with decent returns.

"I'm really comfortable with our return game and if we can keep this up for the rest of the year, that would be more than satisfactory."


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