Bombers' man in the middle?

Winnipeg Blue Bombers LB Henoc Muamba during practice at Canad Inns Stadium. (QMI Agency/Jason...

Winnipeg Blue Bombers LB Henoc Muamba during practice at Canad Inns Stadium. (QMI Agency/Jason Halstead)

Kirk Penton, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:29 PM ET

WINNIPEG - This year Henoc Muamba looks even more like someone who could crush your skull with a light squeeze, but his massive muscles won’t mean a thing if his brain isn’t just as strong.

The first overall pick in the 2011 CFL draft is in a heated battle with Pierre-Luc Labbe for the team’s starting middle linebacker spot. Only one of them will win. Defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke will not rotate them.

You’re in or you’re out, and Muamba is still in there.

“He’s starting to play faster,” Burke said. “When he first came out he was a little bit hesitant. Both (linebackers coach) Chip Garber and I told him to go hard, and if you make a mistake, you make a mistake. He’s done that, plus he’s been studying.

“He’s in there watching extra film all the time. He’s doing everything he can to get himself ready.”

Labbe rarely makes a mental mistake, but he isn’t the physical specimen Muamba is. Muamba, meanwhile, still has to learn more than Labbe, but last year gave him a head start.

“It’s such a big difference from year one to year two. It’s hard to even explain,” Muamba said. “It’s just great to be able to come back to a playbook that you’ve already seen before.”

Burke said the all-Canadian competition is too tight to call five days into camp. The Bombers are going to use a Canadian middle linebacker because of defensive tackle Doug Brown’s off-season retirement. Muamba was drafted specifically to become the team’s defensive quarterback, but if he’s not ready Labbe will hold the fort until it’s time.

Muamba has the physical skills, that much is known. Now it’s a matter of understanding everything opposing quarterbacks are throwing his way.

“I’ve seen a lot of great athletes who never can learn what has to be learned, and they don’t make it because they never can figure it out mentally,” Burke said.

Muamba spent the winter in Texas with his brother, B.C. Lions safety Cauchy Muamba, and they worked out together whenever Cauchy wasn’t teasing his little bro about the result of last year’s Grey Cup. Their relationship hasn’t changed just because Cauchy has a ring and Henoc does not.

“That’s my brother, and he’ll always be my brother,” Henoc said. “I’m happy for him, but at the same time there is a little side of me that wasn’t happy. But I’m definitely using it to motivate myself and push me to become that piece of the puzzle I need for this team to be to help it accomplish that goal.”

CAMPING OUT

Day 5

3 STARS OF THE DAY

Strong-side linebacker Clint Kent was breaking up passes all over the place, defensive end Kenny Mainor’s motor was firing on all cylinders, and cornerback Demond Washington had two picks.

CATCH OF THE DAY

A leaping Chris Matthews reached back to snag a pass from Justin Goltz, but he had to pluck the pigskin off Demond Washington’s helmet to make the grab.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I don’t think I’d have a problem at all.”

— Middle linebacker Henoc Muamba, when asked how he would do if he had to start a game at the position tomorrow

TWEET OF THE DAY

“Please keep my friend @pegsDavidLeitch in your prayers as he battles pneumonia in the hospital. Love you brotha.”

— Quarterback Alex Brink (@AlexBrink10) sends out well wishes to good friend and super Bomber fan David Leitch

INJURY WATCH

Running back Carl Volny (knee), safety Brady Browne (hamstring), receiver Cassidy Doneff (unknown), offensive lineman Brendan Dunn (lower body) and linebacker Rene Stephan (Achilles tendon) missed part or all of practice. Cornerback Brandon Stewart (ankle) took part in the first practice but watched the second.

SCHEDULE

The Bombers have another two practices on Friday, with the action getting underway at 8:30 a.m. and continuing until 12:30 p.m.


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