Bombers' Muamba aims for the middle

Henoc Muamba is excited about the prospect of starting at linebacker and is doing whatever he can...

Henoc Muamba is excited about the prospect of starting at linebacker and is doing whatever he can to earn the position. (CHRIS PROCAYLO/QMI AGENCY)

Ken Wiebe, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 10:24 AM ET

WINNIPEG - Henoc Muamba is preparing to show he’s ready to take the next step.

Whether or not that next step includes the first overall pick in the 2011 CFL Canadian Draft stepping into the heart of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defence as the starting middle linebacker won’t be determined until the end of June.

Through two days of mini-camp, Muamba is excited for that battle but focusing more on getting better, rather than heaping additional pressure on himself before the competition begins to heat up.

“It’s a great opportunity, but it’s not something that’s given to me,” said Muamba, who spent a good portion of the off-season in Dallas training with his brother Cauchy, a defensive back who plays for the B.C. Lions. “I’m definitely going to have to work hard at it and continue to improve each day. I’m here to compete and bring as much as I can to the table. At the end of the day, it’s the coaches that are going to make the decision.”

With Joe Lobendahn still recovering from his surgery to repair his ACL, middle linebacker appears to be one of the best positional battles to be determined during training camp.

“That’s an area we’re letting him compete for, along with the other guys,” said Blue Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice. “I know that other players have (started) in Year 2. It depends on our ratio and how other things play out, but he’ll certainly have a chance to compete.”

After missing the first seven games of the season because of a knee injury, Muamba returned for the final 13 games, including the East final and Grey Cup.

He collected 15 special-teams tackles and recovered a blocked punt against the Montreal Alouettes and returned it 52 yards for the first touchdown of his professional career.

“I learned a lot in terms of football, but as a whole I learned the importance of consistency and staying positive,” said Muamba. “Whatever happens the day before, you’ve got to learn from that and move on to the next play or the next day.

“I had a good mentality approaching the injury and the whole situation. I was able to come back and help the team as much as I could. Hopefully, I can help the team even more this year.”

Those who monitored his development closely believe Muamba handled the transition from college to the pros pretty well.

“He was very disciplined about learning what he had to do, being in the right spot and he was great in meetings,” said Blue Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice. “By the end of the season, he might have been our best special-teams player and that’s kind of the progression you want from a first-year player. What people need to understand are that the CFL Draft and NFL Draft are different.

“You draft guys here and hope they’re going to develop soon. You expect them to be on or close to your 46-man roster, but very seldom does somebody step in and all of a sudden be an impact player. We’re hoping Henoc takes another jump this year.”

Blue Bombers defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke has already noticed a difference.

“He did a really great job over the off-season, so physically he looks very quick and fast,” said Burke.

“He just seems more sure of himself, knowing what we’re doing and all that. He’s reacting faster and I’m seeing some really good things out of him.”


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