HAMILTON — The business of football can be brutal at times and further evidence of this came late Thursday afternoon when the Blue Bombers announced veteran defensive back Bruce Johnson had been released.
After playing in 47 games for the team over the last three seasons, the 29-year-old has not played yet this year due to injury and had just come off a stint on the six-game injury list.
"He got injured right around the end of training camp, so we had him on the six-game and in that time we had some young guys that we liked from training camp — the depth that we brought in — that we feel have done pretty well," said Winnipeg head coach Mike O'Shea Friday.
"These decisions aren’t easy. You’ve got a guy who has been here for as long as I’ve been here in Winnipeg and he’s a really welcomed guy in the locker room, he’s got a lot of friends. He’s really light-hearted in the locker-room, keeps the mood really light... Even the way he used to razz me, I enjoyed that and I’m going to miss that."
Defensive end Jamaal Westerman was sad to see his old friend go.
"He was a great guy in the locker-room, hard worker, a very good player for us," said Westerman. "I wouldn’t be surprised if next week he’s on another team. He’s too good to be at home. Even this week when he got to practice, he was making plays. Man, that’s Bruce. It’s tough losing him. We understand and I think he understands that it’s part of the business. It’s part of the business that everybody hates. I wish him the best of luck."
TURMOIL IN STEELTOWN: The Ticats released defensive back Will Hill and defensive co-ordinator Jeff Reinebold this week, which illustrated some of the unrest on an 0-6 team with no immediate signs of improvement.
Hill, the club's second-leading tackler and a starter in all six games with the exception of one game missed due to a suspension for grabbing an official, was jettisoned after he decided to walk off the practice field Wednesday. He had been suspended four times previously by the NFL for substance abuse and performance-enhancing drug violations.
"One of our tenets here is this is a team, this is a team sport, we're not playing tennis or golf and any role you're given or asked to do, we ask you to do that with a very high level of committment, attention to detail, unselfish attitude behind it and to do right by your teammates," said Austin. "Those aren't hard things to do in a team sport if you actually understand what a team sport is."
Reinebold, meanwhile, was not impressed with his firing.
He was replaced by linebackers coach Phillip Lolley earlier in the week after the defensive unit surrendered an average of 36.2 points per game in six losses, including a 60-1 thrashing at the hands of the Calgary Stampeders. Reinebold, who was offered another position in the organization and seems unlikely to accept, lashed out.
"When you go through these things you find out a tremendous amount about loyalty," Reinbold told listeners of his football podcast, Inside the Huddle, on Thursday. "You wonder why guys don't take jobs unless they have only their guys in place with them? For reasons like this. When it gets tough, and it always gets tough, if the guys are bound together you can weather it better than when guys are starting to feel like, 'Oh my God, the ship's sinking and I better see how I can get on one of the lifeboats.' "
BALL-HAWKING BLUE: The Blue Bombers lead the CFL with nine interceptions but halfback T.J. Heath, who holds the individual lead with four picks, was lamenting missed opportunities last week in Ottawa. He plans to correct that today.
"Yeah, we dropped four or five, maybe," said Heath. "I dropped just one. I've dropped one the past three games. We got some things that need correcting and that's one of them. Because turnovers is big in this league and so getting turnovers, we have to make sure we capitalize on the gifts that they give us."
The Winnipeg defence gets plenty of respect from Hamilton QB Zach Collaros.
"I think (cornerback Chris) Randle and (T.J.) Heath are a great tandem back there and I think that (linebacker) Mo Leggett is one of the most underated guys in the league," said Collaros. "He's always around the football. It seems when he gets his hands on the football, he's going to intercept it and take it the other way."
PLAYOFF CHASE? The Ticats don’t have a victory yet, but they are still only three wins out of a tie for first place or second place in the overmatched East Division.
"I think (linebacker) Simoni (Lawrence) said something like we're only two games out of second (place)," said Collaros. "It's a nice consolation for us but at the same time, we're just trying to control what we can. I know it's cliche but we're just trying to get better every day, every practice, every meeting and guys have really bought into it from the beginning. We're hoping the tide starts turning, obviously."
Collaros insists his club is not a lost cause.
"If you walked into our locker room and you were completely ignorant of the situation that we find ourselves in, you wouldn't be able to tell that we were 0-6. You'd think we were 4-2 or 5-1," said Collaros. "We have a confident group of guys... we have a great group of guys here and they've stayed very positive. They want to win."