Armstrong no backup for Bombers

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

When Derick Armstrong learned on Thursday night he was going to be a backup for the season-opener, he made perhaps the most drastic move a pro athlete can make.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers wide receiver said thanks, but no thanks, and watched the 19-17 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos from the sidelines. The team apparently learned of his decision when they told him to go out for his first play and he refused.

"I made the decision to not (play)," Armstrong told the Sun yesterday morning at Edmonton International Airport. "I didn't want to rotate (plays with Adarius Bowman). I felt like I didn't have to rotate, given the years and experience that I've played in this game.

'Return the favour'

"They didn't give me the most respect and let me know ahead of time, so I just figured I would return the same favour. Whatever happens, happens.

"... If they would've let me know (earlier) it would've been a lot better, but they didn't let me know until, like, pretty much the last minute. By then I was frustrated.

"I wasn't even thinking about the game. I was thinking about what's going on."

Armstrong, a 1,000-yard receiver the past two seasons, is being docked half his game cheque for the stunt, but it appears he will remain with the Bombers. How his teammates react to that remains to be seen.

Winnipeg head coach Mike Kelly reported yesterday, after meeting with Armstrong about his comments to the Sun, that the situation was being handled "internally," that it was "resolved," and that everyone was "moving on."

Kelly said he is "anticipating" that the Texas native will be on the practice field tomorrow and that "all indications are" he will be in the lineup for Friday's home-opener against the Calgary Stampeders.

"I'm disappointed on a lot of levels, from the moment it was conveyed, to me sitting here right now," Kelly said, looking frustrated and choosing his words carefully. "There's all different layers that I'm disappointed in."

The rookie head coach, who is dealing with his first major crisis after only one game, said some of that disappointment falls on himself.

"Always, because ultimately I'm in charge of everything that happens here," he said. "Just like I took responsibility for not coaching well enough, this wasn't handled well enough, and I'll take full responsibility for it."

The Bombers ran into roster woes at 3 p.m. Thursday when it became official that Canadian defensive tackle Doug Brown was unable to play due to a viral infection. That didn't directly affect the ratio, however, because they replaced Brown with Canadian rookie Don Oramasionwu.

It did, however, alter their backup plans, and after an hour and a half of deliberation the brass decided to make a receiver one of their three designated imports, who can replace only other Americans. It came down to Armstrong and Bowman.

They chose Armstrong, who has been dealing with a chronic knee problem, and it didn't sit well with the man they call Big Country.

Knee problems

"I'm very mad," Armstrong said in Edmonton, prior to his meeting with Kelly. "There was talk about some ratio thing and whatever and whatever. I know one thing, that I was frustrated."

Armstrong, 30, dealt with the knee injury last season, but he missed only one game because of it. He has a brace for it this year, but he has been given several practices off to rest the knee and get it as close to 100% as possible. It's also believed he receives a needle before every game to numb the pain.

Armstrong, a former NFLer who has 189 receptions for 2,454 yards and 14 touchdowns in 40 games with the Bombers, bristled at the suggestion his knee was the reason why they put the DI tag on him.

"I do the things that they ask me to do to prepare myself to play," he said. "I don't want to talk about what I do to get ready and everything, but I do things that most guys wouldn't do to prepare to go play."

kirk.penton@sunmedia.ca


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