April 26, 2012
Simpson answer to Blue prayer?
By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency
WINNIPEG - Chad Simpson got off the plane, cleared Canadian customs and declared the three things he knew about Winnipeg and the CFL.
“I know it’s cold, I know it’s 12 people, and I know they love their football,” the 26-year-old said.
The Bombers would like to know if he can solve their woes in the kickoff return game.
It’s been eight years since somebody in blue and gold took a kickoff all the way, Keith Stokes turning the trick in 2004.
Simpson might be similar to Stokes in stature (5-foot-9), but you’ll never confuse the two, up close.
Where Stokes was a tad pudgy at times, Simpson looks like he spends half the day in the weight room (he doesn’t, but more on that later).
In addition to his powerful 216-pound frame, Simpson lugs an NFL pedigree into town, having spent two-plus seasons in The League.
His resume includes 55 kickoff returns, a 23.7-yard average and a 93-yard touchdown (cue the music to a Bomber fans’ ears) while playing for the Indianapolis Colts (2008-09) and three games with Washington (2010).
“He had a lot of tools — that’s why Mr. Mack signed him and we’re excited about it,” Bomber head coach Paul LaPolice said, after getting his first look at Simpson in mini-camp. “We want to get him ingrained into the offence and learn. He’s been a great kickoff returner. We want to get him to learn punts, too.”
Then there’s Simpson, the running back.
Used as a third-down, change-of-pace back down south, he averaged a healthy 4.9 yards on 30 carries, scoring three times, including his favourite, a tackle-breaking, 30-yarder that helped the Colts beat the Houston Texans.
“I got a lot of highlights,” Simpson said. “You can go on YouTube and check ’em all out.”
Ask Simpson if he’s more a returner or a running back, and he hits the hole in the question like it’s a leaky defensive line.
“I want the ball,” he said. “A ball specialist. Any chance to get the ball, whether it’s catching it or you hand it to me or I pick it up on a fumble, I just want the ball.
“My game is everything. My game is what it needs to be.”
There’s no shortage of confidence in the product of Liberty City, a rough part of Miami where football “was all we did.”
“You wake up in the morning in the summer time, someone has a game two blocks away. After that you’ve got to hurry to the other block ’cause they got a game over there you want to get into.
“Football kept us sane. You either had to be a tough kid and do what the tough kids do, or you’re going to be a professional athlete. I’ve been playing this since I was seven. Knew I was going to be a professional player since I was two.”
He just never envisioned he’d be one in the Great White North.
But after suffering a broken foot, the Redskins cut him loose. And last year the NFL calls just didn’t come.
“You can’t get down on yourself,” Simpson said. “You’ve got a bunch of guys making the decision that aren’t out there playing. But it will never be on talent. It’ll never be me not being good enough.”
There doesn’t seem to be an ounce of the “what-am-I-doing-here” attitude you sometimes get with NFL vets.
And if there’s an ounce of fat on him, it’s not visible, either.
That, it seems, comes as natural as his speed.
“I don’t work out much,” Simpson said, mind-boggling when you look at his upper body. “But I run a lot.”
If he runs his way onto the Bomber roster, it’ll likely be as a return man and backup to tailback Chris Garrett.
Then he’ll learn another big difference between the CFL and NFL: the paycheque.
Actually, he already knows.
“Nowhere close,” he said, smiling. “But you can’t play this game for salary alone. Of course, I’ve gotta make a living. And that’s what they’re doing here, they help me make a living. And I’m playing football, so I love that, either way.”
Receiver Chris Matthews might never catch a pass as a Winnipeg Blue Bomber.
But asked about his size, Thursday, he did show signs of being the next Milt Stegall.
“I am 6-foot-5,” Matthews began. “Very good looking.”
Matthews would actually do well to simply be the next Greg Carr, the towering receiver who bolted to Edmonton via free agency. At 22, he’s what you call raw.
“I thought everybody speaks French up here. My girlfriend was telling me I’m going to have to brush up on my French. I was like, ‘I don’t know, I don’t have Rosetta Stone, yet.’ ”
Running back Anthony Woodson has been working with the receivers this week.
“He’s got some versatility to him and I didn’t want him to have to learn both in (main) training camp,” head coach Paul LaPolice said.
Woodson was the Bombers’ fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft, but returned to the University of Calgary last season.
Quarterback Joey Elliott missed his second day of camp with a quad injury suffered while working out. The Bombers say it’s not related to the torn ACL that ended his 2011 campaign last July. LaPolice hopes Elliott will be available for Friday’s final session.