Simpson still a force on defence

KEN WIEBE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

Barrin Simpson heard the whispers, if not shouts, from the doubters throughout the off-season.

While there were some questions about whether the Winnipeg Blue Bombers middle linebacker would return to full speed after missing all but four games last season with a torn pectoral muscle, Simpson never second-guessed his own abilities.

"No, I was ticked off about the doubters," said Simpson, who had 14 tackles in last week's 19-5 loss to the Toronto Argonauts. "I didn't need any extra incentive because I wanted to get back to the level I was playing at before the injury. I'm the type of guy that always had to prove people wrong, even in college, they said I was too small to play middle linebacker at 218 pounds. It's not a coincidence that you play football well. If you're a good football player, it's like riding a bike. If you're healthy enough to play, you're going to be able to play.

"You have to knock some rust off, but when you get back in the groove of being back on the field, I didn't think there was going to be any drop-off. As a matter of fact, I thought I was going to be better because I was so driven to be back."

The pectoral issue was one of the reasons Simpson changed his off-season workout routine, shifting to a program that featured lighter weight but more repetitions.

"I worked out a lot smarter, rather than just throwing weight around," said Simpson, 31. "I came in three-to-five pounds lighter but I wanted to tone down the muscle. I'm a lot leaner. Last year I was a little bulky."

The change in routine has helped his endurance, speed and agility, while not sacrificing any power.

Being forced to watch from the sidelines also reminded Simpson of something very important.

"I never took football for granted, I always gave it my best effort and worked as hard as I could in the off-season," said Simpson, who leads the CFL in tackles with 36 through four games, which is 12 more than his nearest pursuer. "When I was injured, it was taken away so I thought that for the rest of the years I play, I'm going to enjoy it more because when it's time to retire, it will be gone just like that."

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the strong start for Simpson, who spent the off-season in Texas, is that he's been playing with a severe case of turf toe, a nagging injury that requires him to take an injection prior to every game to numb the pain.

"If anybody has had turf toe before, the joint on your big toe gets inflamed and you get very little blood down there so the healing process is very difficult and you can't really push off when you run," said Bombers head coach Mike Kelly. "Barrin Simpson is a consummate professional. He's the first one in here every day and has the film rolling. His leadership by example has been exemplary. He's really been a diamond for us as far as creating a new culture in here."

Kelly inherited a team with three middle linebackers on the scene but wasn't ready to throw Simpson on the scrap heap.

The decision to give Simpson an opportunity to win his old job back looks to be one of the more astute moves Kelly made during the off-season overhaul.

"When I looked at film, all the way back in December, he kind of jumps off the tape when he's out there playing," said Kelly. "There's a passion that he plays with and he's a very smart player. He still has the ability to strike. He can get in there and put a ball carrier down in a hurry."


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