Bombers thrive on pressure

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

It's a good thing for Ike Charlton that Mike Kelly had his phone number last winter.

Had Kelly made the decision about re-signing the Iceman based on what others were saying, Charlton would not be patrolling the strong-side linebacker position for the Bombers this season.

"He was somewhat ostracized as I came in here," Kelly said yesterday. "He was a name that people were kind of whispering to me that should be targeted for exile.

"Then when I got on the phone with him last year when he was in Cleveland, we just kind of got along."

Charlton is a big Greg Marshall fan -- and vice-versa -- so when the latter left Winnipeg and signed on as Hamilton's defensive co-ordinator, it was expected No. 0 would follow him to Steeltown.

Not only that, but Charlton seemed to fall out of favour in Winnipeg last season. Kelly said it would have been easy to cut him or let him walk.

But he didn't, and Charlton chose to stay.

"I felt more at home here in Winnipeg. I'm comfortable," the fifth-year Bomber said. "I've got a backing here. Some fans treat me well. A lot of fans wanted me out of here, saying I was too old.

"I took it as extra motivation. I like that stuff. I like for someone to say, 'He ain't doing this,' because I like pressure. I perform. If it's too easy for me, then I get lackadaisical."

The 32-year-old said the reason for his rough 2008 campaign was injuries, which limited him to 12 games and the East Divison semifinal. A groin injury suffered in training camp dogged him for the entire campaign, and an ankle problem added to the woes.

Better stats

The situation is much different this season, and his stats show it. He has one interception (none last year), two tackles for a loss (none last year), 56 tackles (36 last year), three fumbles recoveries (one last year) and a lot fewer "Cut Charlton" threads on the local fan websites.

Charlton has never lacked confidence, which is probably another reason why Kelly liked him so much.

"I can go guard anybody," the Virginia Tech product said. "If they want to try to put a Geroy Simon in there, they'll feel comfortable putting me in there because I can go run with him as opposed to some dudes. They may be quick enough to play it, but do you have the coverage skills to play there?

"So it was a case where I just stayed humble, stayed hungry -- the two Hs -- and went out and worked. And it's paying off."

"When you say his name, I get a smile on my face," Kelly said. "He's come here and has truly been a leader for us and been a very, very good football player and has a lot more years left in him than maybe people had thought that he had."

LATE HITS: The Bombers (7-9) visit the Montreal Alouettes (13-3) on Sunday. If Edmonton loses at home to Toronto tomorrow night, the Bombers can clinch a playoff spot with a win ... Running back Fred Reid, receiver Adarius Bowman and offensive lineman Ryan Donnelly did not practise again yesterday. Kelly said Bowman "seems to be coming along fine." ... Slotback Terrence Edwards pulled up lame midway through practice and left the workout, but Kelly said it was a precautionary move and that no damage was done ... Bomber quarterback Michael Bishop will take part in an online Q&A on bluebombers.com tonight from 5 to 7.

kirk.penton@sunmedia.ca


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