A nice Hawaiian Punch

JIM BENDER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:50 PM ET

Joe Lobendahn has never made any secret of the fact that he loves to hit people. Legally.

Trouble is, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers middle linebacker hits them so hard that he sometimes suffers from those deadly strikes himself.

The 5-foot-11, 242-pound import missed seven games due to injuries last season and a few more the year before.

But when healthy, the Hawaiian is a force on the field.

“He hits them hard,” Bomber head coach Paul LaPolice relished Tuesday. “Some linebackers who aren’t the strongest get driven back by a running back and the back gets two or three yards, but Joe drives them back so it’s a gain of zero yards. So, he does a great job.

“He has a high motor. He runs to the ball. He drives people back and was always around the ball and when we pressure people, he gets there. Some linebackers don’t. The centre blocks them or the linebacker gets blocked by the back. Not Joe. Joe gets through there when we send him on pressure packages. He’s a great player.”

Lobendahn, 27, just wants to put the hurts behind him.

“Yeah, I went through some injuries but that’s part of the game,” he said. “It’s what you do after and how you come back from it, just facing adversity and stuff.”

Well, if what he did his first game back as a starter is any indication, the University of Washington product is ready to shine. Lobendahn led the Bombers with eight defensive tackles, two quarterback sacks and a special teams tackle in Winnipeg’s CFL season-opening 49-29 victory over Hamilton. That earned him CFL defensive player of the week honours.

“It feels really good to have those kind of stats and have fun with the defence and just playing and being back on the field with the guys again,” Lobendahn said. “But there’s always room for improvement. Yeah, I got eight tackles and two sacks that I got credit for but it wasn’t just me that was competing. The whole defence did its job, which helped me make those tackles.

“I’m pretty hard on myself. I’m the toughest critic on myself so, I’ve still got to improve. There’s a lot of stuff that I still have to improve on. There were a lot of mistakes that I made on the field so, I’ve got to get better every week.”

Lobendahn, of course, learned from the best as he was tutored by Barrin Simpson, aka the ‘Minister of Defence.’

“Barrin Simpson’s one of the best players in the league, one of the best middle linebackers,” Lobendahn said. “I looked up to him when I got here and now he’s in a different place doing his thing and I’m over here still with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. It’s my job to lead the defence now.”

Simpson is now playing for Saskatchewan.

Lobendahn was the central figure in a defence that held Hamilton to minus-two yards net offence in the first half of last Friday’s match.

“That was good,” he said. “That just gives us more confidence in what we do and basically, just doing what our assignments were and doing whatever we had to do for each play. It was hard work.”

The defence held Hamilton to 205 yards net offence over the full 60 minutes. It should also be pointed out that 14 of Hamilton’s 29 points were scored on kick returns.

“They had pressure all day on them,” LaPolice said. “They weren’t able to run the football; we had a couple of take-aways and they couldn’t get the ball to their playmakers.”

Lobendahn may have taken control of the defence over from Simpson but claims he does not have a nickname.

“Not yet, but one day,” he said.

‘Hawaiian Punch’ sounds good to us.

jim.bender@sunmedia.ca


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