WINNIPEG - The ball hawks are back and they say they’re going to be better than ever.
The regular season is just over two weeks away, but one of the most improved areas for this edition of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is the secondary, which had 17 interceptions in 2010 compared to 31 in 2009.
“We’ve got a lot of younger guys that have that swagger we need — it reminds me of the group we had in 2009 when we led the league in interceptions,” said Blue Bombers cornerback Johnson, who has 13 interceptions over the past three seasons, including six in 2009. “It’s definitely a group of ball hawks and it doesn’t matter who is on the field. We have some talented backups that can come in and get the job done as well.
“We have a lot more athletes now. There are a lot of backups who could be starters on other teams. It’s a matter of building that chemistry with whoever is out there. We’re going to be a special group.”
There have been some concerns at defensive back at times over the past decade, but the return of Jonathan Hefney on a full-time basis, along with incumbents like Johnson, Alex Suber and Deon Beasley, has the confidence levels soaring.
“They’ve very talented,” said Blue Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice. “We’re playing a lot more press/man (coverage) and you have to be more physical. That’s probably (the position) where we have the most depth on our football team.”
That depth, which includes the likes of Brandon Stewart, Arrington Hicks, Leslie Majors and Johnny Sears — just to name a few — will make it difficult to decide who is on the field.
“It’s going to be great competition,” said LaPolice. “A very good problem to have.”
Although getting Hefney back after an NFL stint with the Detroit Lions was a positive late last season, having him here from the beginning should be a major boost for the Blue Bombers.
He’s a physical force and a guy who had six picks in 24 games with the Blue and Gold over the past two seasons.
“The whole secondary is going to take care of business — we’re trying to lead the league in interceptions. That’s our goal,” said Hefney, who has battled an ankle issue during camp but was on the field the past two days and making his presence felt. “We’ve got a lot of play makers. We’re going into games not just looking to stop the receivers or letting them try to catch a pass, we’re trying to get interceptions and take it to the house as well.”
New Blue Bombers defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke was known for putting the onus on his secondary to make plays when he was with the Montreal Alouettes and you can expect that trend to continue here.
“You always want turnovers,” said Burke, who won back-to-back Grey Cups with the Als. “The last three years, the team that won the turnover battle has been in the Grey Cup and we want to make sure we’re at the top of the heap.”
Sears has made hauling in interceptions a regular occurrence during training camp and he’d like to keep that up during the pre-season games as he tries to nail down a spot on the roster and push for work in the starting rotation.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that can cover, run, are smart and athletic,” said Sears. “The intensity is always at a high level.”
NOTES: The Blue Bombers will take 50 players on the road for Thursday’s game in Montreal against the Alouettes.
The only veteran starters in the lineup are centre Brendon LaBatte, right tackle Kelly Butler, defensive tackle Moton Hopkins, defensive back Deon Beasley, receiver Cory Watson, kicker Justin Palardy and punter Mike Renaud.