Bombers' Johnny Sears latest to ride SAM carousel

Johnny Sears celebrates after making an interception against Montreal on Oct. 8. Sears will be the...

Johnny Sears celebrates after making an interception against Montreal on Oct. 8. Sears will be the fifth player to step into the strong-side linebacker, or SAM, role this season for the Bombers. (BEN PELOSSE/QMI Agency files)

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:36 PM ET

Will the Winnipeg Blue Bombers finally stumble upon their future strong-side linebacker on their fifth attempt of the season?

Demond Washington is doubtful for Saturday's critical clash in Hamilton after aggravating a stinger injury on Tuesday, so the Bombers will employ their fifth strong-side linebacker (more commonly known as SAM) when they take on the Ticats.

Johnny Sears Jr. will get the start on Saturday, and why it has taken the coaching staff this long to put him there remains a mystery. He has good size, good hands, and he's plenty quick. What more could you want in a SAM?

"The spot physically is a good spot for him because he's a big guy with good speed," interim head coach Tim Burke said Wednesday. "That's really the kind of guy you want at SAM linebacker. We had to rely on him so much on the outside earlier this year, so he never got a chance to be that position. So we'll try him this week and see how he does."

The SAM spot has turned out to be a big problem in a season full of problems for the Blue and Gold. The brass decided during training camp it could do without Clint Kent, who patrolled the position with unheralded efficiency the previous two seasons. Burke, the defensive co-ordinator at the time, was on board with the decision to release Kent, saying the team had plenty of depth in the secondary to fill the SAM role, which is essentially a sixth defensive back.

The problem wasn't necessarily Kent's release; it was the fact they didn't have a plan to replace him. Sears is the fifth SAM of the season, but he's just the second injury replacement. That tells you how badly the team brass misjudged the situation and how tough it actually is to learn the job.

That might be why Sears, who is relatively inexperienced compared to the others who have played the position this season, wasn't first on the list in the first place. Burke hinted as much on Wednesday.

"Hamilton basically uses one formation 90% of the game, so mentally it shouldn't be too difficult to be thrown in there in one week's time," Burke said.

Another reason why Sears, who leads the Bombers with three interceptions, hasn't been considered until now is because he was badly needed in the secondary, filling in at cornerback and halfback for players who were either injured or — coincidentally enough — moving up to fill the SAM role.

Halfback Jonathan Hefney balked at playing the position to start the season, so Brandon Stewart moved up from cornerback. Stewart got hurt in the second game, however, so Hefney ended up playing SAM for five games. Stewart struggled when he returned to the lineup, so cornerback Jovon Johnson took over.

The carousel didn't stop there.

Johnson struggled and said he didn't want to play the position anymore, so Washington made his SAM debut last Friday in Toronto. Now he's hurt, so Sears gets a shot. The only members of the starting secondary who haven't played SAM yet are Alex Suber and safety Ian Logan.

"Today I just said, 'OK, who wants to be the SAM this week?' It's getting to that point of the season," Burke said. "Not very many (arms) went up."

The Bombers and their fans are no doubt hoping Sears, who looked to be the best candidate all along, can do the job. That way, the weekly question about who wants to play SAM can finally stop being asked.

kirk.penton@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/PentonKirk


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