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This article was published 5/6/2017 (991 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Cory Johnson isn’t ready to face life after football.
Judging by the impression he’s made at Winnipeg Blue Bombers training camp, there’s a good chance the import defensive tackle won’t have to make any difficult decisions any time soon.
Johnson, 25, who calls Columbia, S.C., home, was signed by Winnipeg as a free agent in late May after short stints with the Atlanta Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs. The 6-2, 300-pounder’s speed and agility have turned some heads at the CFL club’s practice field since he arrived in camp just over a week ago.
The former University of Kentucky Wildcat admitted Monday he wondered if he was at the end of the road when he was dumped from the Chiefs’ practice roster just before the 2016 NFL season.
"When it’s that quick, you don’t really think about what you’re going to do afterward. It’s a challenge because you don’t really have anything to put on a resumé but football," Johnson said. "A lot of us guys, we’ve been playing football all our lives, so (it’s tough) to get ready to walk away from the game... I just felt like this was the best fit, so my agent made it happen. Here, I feel like I got a chance. I got a team that actually respects me and I’m not just a number."
Add Johnson’s name to a hot battle at the defensive tackle positions, one that already includes veteran Jake Thomas, a Canadian who played in 16 games last season. Winnipeg also inked former Hamilton Tiger-Cats starter Drake Nevis, an import and highly sought-after free agent who saw action in 14 games in 2016 and picked up five quarterback sacks and 29 tackles.
Much depends on where Sam Hurl, a Canadian, starts the season. He’s been taking first-team reps at the middle linebacker position in camp.
Heading into camp, it looked as if the Bombers would start a non-import at defensive tackle — a battle between Thomas and Faith Ekakitie, who the team drafted first overall in May. That could change if Hurl earns a starting role, giving Johnson a realistic shot at competing for a starting spot, as well as non-import Padric Scott, who was on the practice roster much of last season.
Johnson already seems like a guy who will endear himself to Bomber fans.
"I’m a very good pass rusher, that’s one of my strengths. When I’m turned up, I feel like the team gets turned up with me. I’m a very energetic guy," he said.
Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea said one word comes to mind when he watches Johnson perform: "Explosive.
"You can tell not only out on the field but in meetings he loves the game, he loves to play football," O’Shea said. "He’s picked (the CFL game) up fairly quickly. He seems to be very disruptive, he gets into the backfield very quickly. He’s got a combination of power and speed. He’s shown quite well."
Gunning for backup job
Veteran quarterback Dan LeFevour knew what he was getting into when he signed with the Bombers as a free agent in February.
It was no secret Matt Nichols, the team’s most outstanding player in 2016, had just signed a multi-year contract that lasts through the 2019 season.
But LeFevour, now with his fourth CFL team in as many years, is intent on being in the picture in some capacity.
"Doing what I can to help the team," he said, when asked about his goal for training camp. "I know that Matt just signed a new contract this year. He had a great season last year as the guy. So, whatever I can do, whether it’s starting at some point or being the No. 2 or No. 3, just enjoying being a part of the game, competing the way that I do and giving the team everything that I have."
LeFevour, 30, a 6-3, 230-pound quarterback out of Central Michigan, is a six-year CFL veteran who started three games for the Toronto Argonauts in 2016.
LeFevour is in a battle with third-year pivot Dominique Davis to be Nichols’ backup.
O’Shea said both should see significant playing time Saturday when the Bombers play an exhibition game in Regina against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
"The No.1 thing these guys are going to have to do is get out on the field and lead their offence and move it down the field and score points," he said.
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).