Kevin Fogg doesn’t like excuses, but the truth be known, last season was an injury nightmare for the 27-year-old defensive back.
An ankle ailment plagued Fogg throughout training camp and much of the regular season, and he struggled to regain his footing after registering four interceptions and two forced fumbles in 18 games as a rookie in 2016.
He returned to Winnipeg this spring, healthier and more fit than he’s ever been. Fogg locked down the starting job as the club’s field cornerback and also showed signs he can return to his dynamic form as a punt returner.
"It was lower body and yes, at the end of the day, it’s all about being healthy and trying to be the best," Fogg said Wednesday afternoon.
"Sometimes things happen. It’s not anything that hindered me, but it was something I had to go through. Now, I’m learning that going through that made me a better person."
A healthier, more mobile Fogg has been just what Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea was looking for.
"He missed most of training camp, if not all (last year)... we had high expectations for him the year before to win a job, and then he had a setback and couldn’t participate as much," O’Shea said.
"And that sort of pushed him down throughout the season. But he’s roared back with a vengeance, and I’m so happy for him.
"Last year wasn’t ideal — probably didn’t make him feel very good. Wasn’t his best year, and he’s just grown so much as a football player and his abilities. I shouldn’t say that. He’s probably just showing us what he really can do."
Fogg filled in at corner, halfback and linebacker a year ago, which illustrated the kind of versatility expected by defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall. He’ll start the season opener against Edmonton as the field cornerback.
"He can play pretty well every position across the board as well as return, obviously, and play all the special teams, too, if he’s not the returner," O’Shea said.
"He’s extremely versatile for us. He went out and won a job. He had the opportunity to win a job at a couple different spots. The way he was playing and the maturity he was showing, this was probably the best spot for him here. But we have no problem putting him wherever on the field, at any time."
Fogg’s re-emergence has had a ripple effect in the secondary, with second-year man Brandon Alexander shifting from corner to Fogg’s halfback slot midway through camp.
The Blue Bombers signed the 24-year-old Alexander following a lengthy inactive stint; he was tutoring Grade 9 algebra in Florida when Winnipeg called.
"Last year, I had just a couple of weeks to prepare and get myself up here and ready to play," Alexander said.
"I was out two years... Coming into this year, knowing I’d have another opportunity to showcase my ability — it gave me six months off to go train and be better and get back to where I normally am during the football season. It’s a big difference. I feel a lot better. I feel faster, I feel stronger, healthier."
Alexander started his rookie year as a corner, moving to the dime linebacker spot before shifting to halfback and finishing the season back at corner. In short, it was an adventure.
"Being able to be comfortable with the waggle, be comfortable with the different rulings that are up here and with that being said, the game comes a lot easier," Alexander said.
"Not in terms of guarding somebody, but in terms of knowing where you need to be, how fast or slow you need to be on and off the field."
O’SHEA’S BAG OF TRICKS: Edmonton head coach Jason Maas is well aware of Winnipeg’s penchant for gadget plays.
"Any time you face Winnipeg with Mike (O’Shea) coaching them, you know you’ve gotta be aware of it," said Maas, who served on the Toronto Argonauts coaching staff with O’Shea in 2012 and 2013.
"It’s always talked about. He’s a smart guy, so he’s always figuring you know, too, so maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he’s come up with something new, but you definitely prepare."
CHANGING ON THE FLY: Edmonton already has seven players on its six-game injured list, including three men (Johnny Adams, Arjen Colquhoun and Mercy Maston) who were pencilled in as starters in the defensive backfield. A fourth starting DB — former all-star Aaron Grymes — is attending to a personal matter and won’t play.
"We’ve had a couple of curveballs thrown at us late this week, and much like last year, we look at that as an opportunity for the next guy to step up and test our depth," Maas said.
"We tested it all last year, and with this being a new year, it doesn’t seem like much has changed."
NOTEWORTHY: Winnipeg has placed running back Timothy Flanders and quarterback Matt Nichols on the six-game injured list. Meanwhile, wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, running back Kienan LaFrance, linebackers Maurice Leggett and Ian Wild and offensive lineman Qadr Spooner all went on the one-game injured list.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
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