It takes a steel spine to stand before a throng of media and take one on the chin, so hand it to Demond Washington, 'cause that's exactly what he did.
After practice on Monday, the 25-year-old defensive back smiled for the cameras. Yeah, he knew head coach Tim Burke called him out after Friday night's tilt, just a single funky play in what has otherwise been an encouraging individual campaign. It was in the dying minutes of the game, when the desperate Eskimos threw on third and 10. Washington leaped for the interception, but the ball tipped off his fingers and landed in Fred Stamps' hands.
It was a weird and lucky play for the Edmonton receiver, an unfortunate one for Washington. That night, with the wounds still gaping from the game's heart-rending end, Burke bluntly said a more veteran defender would have just knocked the ball down instead, and thus sealed the Bombers win.
On Monday, the coach tempered those comments with more sense of Washington's point-of-view. "It was tough," Burke said. "The ball got on him so fast, and he had his back turned when the ball was thrown. Got his head around just as it was getting there... You just have to be aware of the situation before the ball's snapped, so when the football does surprise you, you're thinking 'knockdown' instead of 'intercept."
Still, whether the critique was fair or not, Washington -- a firecracker surprise for the Bombers in his sophomore year -- took that comment straight up, without a hint of hurt.
"I'm a football player, I have big shoulders, and I can carry anything on them," he said. "I'm a man. If I make a mistake, I'm big enough to take up my blame from it, and just move on from it."
He laughed a little then.
"I'm not down about it. I'm going to come out there, you're gonna see another player this week. It's Demond."
Yeah, you gotta like that confidence, especially considering where the Bombers are at. Because here's a simple fact: even if Max Hall settles into the starting pivot gig, even if the offensive line firms up, even if Chris Matthews and Chad Simpson and all the other injured veterans get healthy, this Bombers team won't win unless the defence is on fire. It can't be just a couple of guys, though, the margins of error are too slim.
So some changes could be coming, Burke said, to get the defence consistently clicking. How about this for one of them: Jovon Johnson slid into safety on Friday, taking over for the injured Cauchy Muamba. It's not his usual spot, but he's been around this defence so long and knows it so well, it made sense to try. And Johnson, to some mild surprise, looked right at home back there on his own.
Whether Johnson had enough physicality for the position was in question, but on Friday he tied Alex Suber to lead the team in tackles, with six. He also knocked down a pass, and recovered a fumble that Suber had forced and took it 48 yards straight back to the house for the Bombers' third touchdown.
"I thought he did really well," Burke said, sounding pretty upbeat on that after practice Monday. "He came up and tackled really well. He was around the football. Made a lot of plays that you'd like your free safety to make."
Cauchy Muamba will be back in the lineup this week, but Burke said he's been toying with the idea of keeping Johnson as an option at safety. Maybe try him there sometimes, maybe the non-import Muamba at others, depending on what the play is and how many Canadians are on the field.
"We're going to try to rotate some guys, just to try to get the right match-ups," Burke said. "Try to take advantage of what guys do best."
"At this point, I'm practicing for both just in case, and go from there," Johnson said. Moving to safety from defensive back was "different," he agreed, but he thinks his defensive instincts helped him. Plus, for a guy turning 30 this winter, maybe it's not such a bad thing to have the whole attack playing out in front of you.
"Hopefully playing that spot can prolong my career for about 10 more years," he said, with a laugh.