Kelly's knife looming

JIM BENDER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

The classes are over and the final semester is about to draw to a close.

But first comes the final exam for many Blue Bombers hopefuls when Winnipeg meets the Alouettes in a CFL pre-season game at Percival Molson Stadium in Montreal tonight at 6 o'clock.

"It is kind of like a final exam," non-import safety Brady Browne said yesterday. "It's just as intense as a final exam. It's definitely our last chance to show the coaches what we can do."

Although the University of Manitoba grad is battling the likes of Ian Logan, Shawn Gallant, Steve Holness and Nick Kordic, he is approaching the exam like a Mensa student salivating over an IQ test.

"I'm not nervous, I'm excited," said Browne, who spent last season on the B.C. Lions' practice roster. "And I know what I can do."

In fact, not only did the Bombers acquire Browne as part of a multi-player deal with Saskatchewan, he seems to have graded out pretty well in training camp thus far.

"So far, so good," said the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Burnaby, B.C., native. "I'll do whatever it takes to make the team and help it win. Hopefully, they'll keep me around.

"I hustle a lot and play hard. (Head) coach (Mike) Kelly likes guys who leave it all on the field. Hopefully, I'll get my best grade on Thursday."

All CFL teams must pare their rosters to 46 with a seven-man reserve on Thursday.

Rookie defensive back/linebacker Jasper Johnson is hoping that he will also be spared Kelly's knife.

"I've got to do what I did the last game and just play football," said the 6-foot-2, 217-pound Central Arkansas product who led the Bombers defenders with five defensive tackles in last week's exhibition game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. "I did pretty well for my first CFL game but I can always do better."

Johnson, who turned 24 earlier this month, shrugged off any rookie nerves despite playing two different positions where the Bombers appear to be loaded with talent.

"Naw, football's football," he said. "It's a little different than American football but there's still blocking and tackling.

"The coaches said I did a good job last week. Now, it's about something I always wanted -- to get an opportunity, which is something I didn't get at the Dallas Cowboys camp last year."

Rookie linebacker Jonathan Hefney has been getting lots of opportunity at his new position, strong outside linebacker and hopes that tonight's game will not be his final audition.

"Hopefully, they'll think I'm good enough to keep on the field at least for special teams so I can keep on learning," said the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Tennessee product. "I'm ready to go out there and get started right now.

"I felt like I've been doing pretty good. I missed some opportunities in the last game when I dropped two interceptions so I want to make up for that in this game ... The coaches said, 'Good job,' but wondered where my hands went."

Hefney, 24, is primarily battling veteran Ike Charlton for the starting spot.

"I respect what he can do and I'm still learning from him," Hefney said. "I'm just going to go out there and do what I can do. But I've been playing football since I was a kid so there's nothing to be nervous about."

Yet, the players' performance tonight could spell the difference between being employed or unemployed.

"It's important for everybody to understand that this is their last audition, and they need to perform at their highest," Kelly said. "The bottom line is, we're going to keep guys that are playing their position consistently, smartly, aggressively and are noticeable playmakers."


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