WINNIPEG - Brandon Stewart has a little extra bounce in his step these days, not to mention some additional motivation.
That’s only natural, since the talented Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive back is nearly back to 100% after suffering a high ankle sprain in the first half of last season’s East Division final against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during a Jovon Johnson return.
“I really don’t know how the injury happened,” said Stewart. “I was just running and saw J.J. bend the corner. I was on the opposite side of the field after I blocked my guy, I thought he was going to the house.
“I was going all out and laid into the kicker and flew into the sidelines. I don’t know if (the ankle) rolled. I just knew that when I hit the ground, it didn’t feel right.”
The timing of the injury couldn’t have been worse as Stewart was stuck on the sidelines as the Bombers faced the B.C. Lions in the 99th Grey Cup at B.C. Place.
“Man, it was tough having to watch my team but I tried to give them as much energy as I could on the sidelines to help them in the game,” said Stewart, back for his fourth season with the Bombers and sixth in the CFL. “It was really tough, I had been waiting a long time to get into that situation. It’s what we worked for all year, since training camp, two-a-days and an 18-week season.
“As a starter, to go down in a playoff game, it hurts. But I had faith in my boys that they would bring it home. But we just couldn’t get it done. In my off-season, once I was able to work out and train, I was going crazy trying to get my ankle healthy and come back stronger. I put on six pounds.”
Despite several key losses in the off-season, Stewart believes the Bombers can be even better in 2012.
“Of course. There’s always room for improvement,” said Stewart. “Even last year, we left a lot of plays on the field that we all felt we could have made and should have made. We want to make those plays this year.”
Stewart also doesn’t mind that many experts believe the Bombers could be headed for a fall from grace.
“Everybody underestimates us, which is typically what everyone does. We don’t mind that too much,” he said. “I have no clue, I don’t know why. We return a lot of players. I guess it’s just a respect thing. We have to go out and show we’re consistent year-in and year-out.”
An established veteran, Stewart is working at the intricacies of the defensive back position so he doesn’t have to rely on his athletic ability quite as much.
“I’m just trying to work on my technique on every play,” said Stewart. “I know if my technique is sound, I can be great. I have a lot of athleticism, but I’m trying to not use my athleticism as much this year, more so above the neck, be more fundamentally sound and put myself in better position to make plays.”
What does Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice expect from Stewart as he works his way back from the injury?
“Nothing different. The exact same,” said LaPolice, who had Stewart address the group on the eve of training camp to discuss how he’s progressed from a rookie to a veteran. “He’s kid who plays hard, loves being here, is athletic, excitable. He’s a very good pro. I like coaching him.”
3 STARS OF THE DAY
Running back Chris Garrett was scampering around, Terrence Edwards was his sure-handed self, while safety Dan West came up with another interceptio n.
CATCH OF THE DAY
Alex Brink threaded the needle to Clarence Denmark for a big gain.
DT Dorian Smith (lower-body) and WR Jade Etienne (illness) were on the field after missing the past few days. Still on the sidelines were DB Deon Beasley (undisclosed), RB Carl Volny (knee), S Brady Browne (hamstring), LB Marcellus Bowman (lower leg), T Andre Douglas (hip), DB Jeremy McGee (undisclosed) and LB Rene Stephan (Achilles).
Head coach Paul LaPolice said he’s getting closer to deciding who’d make the trip to Montreal for Thursday’s pre-season game with the Alouettes. It doesn’t sound like QB Buck Pierce will be. LaPolice plans to take 54 or 56 players on the road and will make the first round of cuts after the game.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I’m flying around out here.”
– DB Brandon Stewart on his recovery from an ankle injury
TWEET OF THE DAY
“The gospel music on in the locker room this morning was the only way I knew today was Sunday #smh #trainingcamp”
— DT Bryant Turner, aka @Blitz_Turner
After one session on Sunday, it’s back to two-a-days on Monday at Canad Inns Stadium between 8:15 and 12:30 p.m.