Johnson named best in the East

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' player Jovon Johnson participates in the Bombers' mini camp in Winnipeg,...

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' player Jovon Johnson participates in the Bombers' mini camp in Winnipeg, Manitoba Wednesday, April 13, 2011. (MARCEL CRETAIN/QMI Agency)

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:08 AM ET

WINNIPEG - Jovon Johnson, who’s never been afraid to speak his mind, figures he should win the CFL’s most outstanding defensive player award.

The Bomber cornerback was voted the East Division’s most outstanding defensive player on Wednesday, and he will go up against Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker Jerrell Freeman for the CFL award on Nov. 24 in Vancouver.

“Considering the success of our team, I feel like I should get the nod,” Johnson said. “But (Freeman) had a tremendous year. He definitely played well. But we’ll see what happens.

“When you’re on the last-place team in the league (as Freeman was), your defence is on the field a lot. Not to take anything from him. He played a great year, and I commend him for being nominated.”

Johnson had a league-leading eight interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns, 55 tackles and five pass knockdowns. Freeman led the CFL with 105 tackles, and also had six sacks, four forced fumbles, three interceptions, two tackles for a loss and two pass knockdowns.

Coincidentally, the Bombers have the Roughriders to thank for Johnson, who signed with the Bombers in May 2008 after the Riders released him reluctantly following their 2007 Grey Cup win over the Blue and Gold.

Johnson, who joined the Roughriders late in the 2007 season after being let go by the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, had a run-in with then Saskatchewan head coach Kent Austin during a practice, and then he missed curfew the night before the Grey Cup. Even though he wasn’t playing in the big game, he was still expected to follow team rules. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and Austin wanted him gone.

Those around the Riders that year say Johnson’s behaviour was linked to the fact he felt he should have been on the field. Turns out he probably should have been. Then again, the guy he would’ve replaced, James Johnson, had three interceptions in the 23-19 win over Winnipeg.

“Those guys just want to play, you know?” said Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice, who was Saskatchewan’s receivers coach in 2007. “I’m sure, him being a competitor, he wanted to play, so I don’t think he was a bad kid or a distraction.”

Brendan Taman, the GM of the Bombers at the time, happily picked Johnson up, and the rest is history. Actually, the Erie, Pa., native has a chance to make history if he can garner more votes than Freeman from the Football Reporters of Canada; a defensive back has never been named the CFL’s defensive player of the year.

“You would’ve thought a guy like Less Browne would’ve had an opportunity with the amount of interceptions he had in his career,” Johnson said. “You would think that he definitely would’ve won, but things happen for a reason.

“I don’t think we get enough respect for what we do. … They always overlook the fact that the defensive backs are the ones that cover guys and get sacks for the defensive front. It all works hand in hand, but we accept it and we just roll with it.”

The versatile Johnson played cornerback, halfback and safety for the Bombers this season, and he had at least one interception at each spot.

“That’s very rare,” Johnson said. “And when we needed a guy to move to different spots I’ve been that guy, and I’ve done everything that my team asked of me and been successful at it, so that’s the reason why I feel like I should win the award.”


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