Joe just wants to play

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:42 AM ET

Joe Lobendahn doesn't care how many middle linebackers are under contract with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Nor does he know the length of the contract extension he signed with the team yesterday.

In other words, just give him a helmet and let him play some football.

"I can play defensive line, I can play the corner, I can play safety. It doesn't matter," Lobendahn said yesterday from his native Hawaii. "If they want me to play offence, I can be the running back. I can play slotback."

He's kidding. (We think).

Lobendahn, who turns 26 on Sunday, joins Barrin Simpson and Zeke Moreno as the men highly capable of playing middle linebacker for the Blue and Gold this season.

Head coach Mike Kelly wouldn't get specific, but he wants Lobendahn on the field almost as much as Lobendahn wants to be on the field.

"We think an awful lot of him and want to get him involved," Kelly said. "We're going to be multiple in our defensive fronts and think that he adds a lot of value when we go to a 3-4.

"We also think that he has the abilities, and in a pinch if we needed him, at (weak-side) linebacker in a 4-3, that he could move over there also."

Lobendahn filled in admirably for Simpson after the latter suffered a torn pectoral muscle last July. Lobendahn's own season then came to an end in September when he tore knee ligaments, forcing the team to acquire Moreno.

Lobendahn said his knee has healed completely.

The Bombers also re-signed defensive tackle Josh Miller yesterday. Miller was a free agent after ending last season on the Bomber practice roster.

FREE AGENT WATCH: The chances of Alexandre Gauthier returning to the Blue and Gold don't look good.

The offensive lineman, whose contract expires Sunday at 11 p.m., said yesterday from Conklin, Alta., that the Bombers offered him the contract he wanted -- but it was a little too late for his liking.

"I gave them three weeks to give me what I wanted," Gauthier said. "After that I said, 'No, I'm going to wait.' Yes, they offered me what I wanted after, but I told them it's too late.

"I don't feel bad at all with what I'm doing. I'll be waiting for free agency."

Kelly sounded a bit perturbed when asked if Gauthier's story was how things actually went down.

"Well, I'm sorry we're not on his timetable," Kelly said sarcastically. "Darn!"

Seriously, though, Kelly claimed the Bombers did everything they could to re-sign the left tackle before Sunday's deadline.

"We discussed with him several different ways that we could structure," Kelly said. "We always kept in mind the dollar figure that he felt was important for him to reach. After providing him with several different ways to reach that number, we offered him basically what he was looking for.

"It was still prior to free agency, so I'm sorry that we didn't meet his deadline. Here we go with the tail wagging the dog again."

Gauthier did his own negotiating with the Bombers, but he is now represented by Gil Scott. The latest rumours suggest Gauthier will sign with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Winnipeg has seven other players who are poised to become free agents on Sunday: offensive linemen Dominic Picard, Kyle Koch and Matt O'Meara, linebackers Ike Charlton and Cam Hall, fullback Graeme Bell and defensive tackle Jon Oosterhuis.

Hall has already been given permission to seek employment elsewhere.

BROWNER BACK: Calgary Stampeders cornerback Brandon Browner signed a contract extension with the Grey Cup champs yesterday.

Browner, 24, was Calgary's lone CFL defensive all-star last season, and he played in the Grey Cup game despite having an injured ankle.

WAIT A MINUTE: CFL commissioner Mark Cohon went on the offensive yesterday, issuing an open letter to the city of Ottawa to defend the three-down loop.

Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is trying to bring an MLS team to the nation's capital, while a group led by Jeff Hunt have been granted a conditional CFL franchise.

Cohon released the letter because he believes Melnyk, in an effort to convince the local politicians to build a stadium for him, has released misinformation about the CFL.

kirk.penton@sunmedia.ca


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