Shabazz not too shabby

JIM BENDER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:25 AM ET

Say what you will about his offensive woes -- and we have -- but Mike Kelly made his most brilliant move to date on defence.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach engineered the trade that brought import linebacker Siddeeq Shabazz here from Edmonton.

"We knew that (Shabazz) would be an impact player for us," Kelly said yesterday. "I'd be kidding everybody if I said I knew he was going to have four interceptions and return two of them for touchdowns and the number of fumble recoveries.

Make an upgrade

"But we knew that, in order to run the defence that we wanted to run, that we had to make an upgrade at the WIL (weak-side) linebacker spot and we knew that Siddeeq fit the skillsets that we were looking for. So when we had the opportunity to pull the trigger on that trade, we knew it was going to be a good one for us and it has worked out well that way."

Indeed.

Shabazz added two fumble recoveries to a league-leading four picks and 23 defensive tackles. As a result, the CFL named him the Defensive Player of the Month -- unanimously.

"It feels great," said Shabazz, who has yet to practise while nursing an ankle injury this week. "That's pretty cool. I mean, it's been a great month and we're having fun."

Shabazz, 28, was shocked when the Eskimos were willing to part ways with him, acquiring defensive end/linebacker Kai Ellis in the deal.

"It has worked out well," said Shabazz, who has been a key cog in a defence that leads CFL with 22 takeaways. "It's been a great opportunity for me and I look forward to having a great season.

"We've got a lot of playmakers on defence. It's fun to be around that group of guys. It's almost like I haven't caught one ball straight from the quarterback. They've all been tipped."

The 6-foot, 201-pound New Mexico State product is being modest.

After pressuring the quarterback, Shabazz chased down field to pick up a ball just before it hit the ground after glancing off the intended receiver for an interception during last week's game against Toronto.

You just don't teach that kind of hustle.

Though Shabazz was born in Frankfurt, Germany, his family moved to Chaparral, N.M., when he was four or five.

"My parents were Muslim before they got married and they changed their name to Shabazz, and that's why we all have Muslim names," said Shabazz, whose given name means 'Friend.'

"They practised it for a while and then, I started studying religion and I started practising Islam when I was in college. But now, I'm not religious at all. More spiritual. There's a lot of great philosophies out there and I took a lot from a lot of different places but there is no one religion that I feel that has had it all for me."

Problem name

But his surname can be a problem at times.

"I've gotten harassed by some teammates, especially after 9-11," Shabazz admitted. "Actually, travelling, I always seem to be the one they pull out of the lineup because of the name but that's never been a real issue."

At issue now is whether the ankle injury will keep Shabazz out of Saturday's game against the Stampeders in Calgary.

"I played most of the game last week with the injury so I can't see why I won't play again this week," he said.

Joe Lobendahn, who has been taking turns at his weak-side linebacker spot this week, will return from injury to play this week regardless of whether Shabazz is able to suit up.


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