HAMILTON -- The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will head into Hamilton for a must-win game against the Tiger-Cats on Saturday with a new defensive line that will include a raw rookie and a converted defensive tackle platooning at one end position.
With both of Winnipeg's starting defensive ends now out of the lineup with injuries -- Alex Hall is out for the season with a knee injury and Jason Vega is out for at least this week with a toe injury -- the Bombers held their final full practice of the week at Canad Inns Stadium on Thursday with Bryant Turner and Youri Yenga platooning at one end position.
Turner played defensive end in high school and college but he has only ever played as a defensive tackle in his CFL career. Turner missed the last two games with a lower-body injury but sounded like he was not going to be denied the chance to play in this week's critical game.
"I've been pestering at the coaches to get back on the field," said Turner, who doesn't think the shift from tackle to end will pose significant problems for him.
"It was kind of my natural position in college and high school, so I'm looking forward to getting back out there."
Yenga, meanwhile, is a raw rookie who has seen just two weeks of actual action this season and none since Week 5. Yenga said he's grateful for the chance to prove himself in such a key game. "I've just been working and keeping a positive attitude and I guess that's the result of a positive attitude," said Yenga.
"Instead of me saying I can do this or whatever, I'd rather let my actions speak for itself," he said.
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The other major positional change on defence this week will see Johnny Sears take over at strong-side linebacker after Demond Washington, who had the job for just one game, was injured in practice earlier this week.
Sears, who will in turn be replaced at cornerback in the starting lineup by Brandon Stewart, said he's looking forward to doing a lot more hitting from the linebacker position.
"I welcome it," said Sears. "I don't mind (the physical contact) at all. I've just got to be the hammer and not the nail."
Sears is the fifth SAM linebacker the Bombers have auditioned this season since cutting former SAM Clint Kent at the end of training camp.
Head coach Tim Burke was asked Thursday afternoon if he now regretted the decision to cut Kent. Burke said the decision to release Kent after training camp was made by the whole coaching staff, but he said he didn't disagree with the decision at the time and it doesn't sound like he does now either.
"You make decisions and you have to live with them," said Burke. "Clint's been a part-time starter for Edmonton, too."
Kent was signed by the Eskimos soon after his release by Winnipeg but he's been injured at times and has not been a regular starter with the Eskimos this season.
Burke said he thinks Sears is nicely suited to the SAM role, perhaps more so than all the other defensive backs who've auditioned in the role this year.
"He's probably one of our best DBs athletically. Plus he's bigger, so that's a good spot for him. He's a pretty good hitter, too," said Burke. "He's much closer to a (Montreal Alouettes SAM) Chip Cox than the other guys are. They're more cover-type guys. So I'm hoping he can be like Chip for us."