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Rookie lining himself up for success

John Woods / The Canadian Press files</p><p>First-year Bomber Jovan Santos-Knox is making a case for extra plaing time on defence.</p></p>

John Woods / The Canadian Press files

First-year Bomber Jovan Santos-Knox is making a case for extra plaing time on defence.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/9/2017 (415 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Every CFL season includes unheralded rookies who start training camp as no-names and grow quickly into more prominent roles.

Well, you can count first-year Winnipeg Blue Bombers linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox as one of those taking an early run at becoming a prime time player.

The 23-year-old from the University of Massachusetts started the season almost exclusively as a member of Winnipeg’s special teams, but his job description has expanded recently, with defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall seemingly unafraid to incorporate him in the game plan.

Santos-Knox started his first game, a 48-28 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Banjo Bowl, picking off an early Kevin Glenn pass. It was a big play that snuffed out some early Roughriders’ momentum.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/9/2017 (415 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Every CFL season includes unheralded rookies who start training camp as no-names and grow quickly into more prominent roles.

Well, you can count first-year Winnipeg Blue Bombers linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox as one of those taking an early run at becoming a prime time player.

The 23-year-old from the University of Massachusetts started the season almost exclusively as a member of Winnipeg’s special teams, but his job description has expanded recently, with defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall seemingly unafraid to incorporate him in the game plan.

Santos-Knox started his first game, a 48-28 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Banjo Bowl, picking off an early Kevin Glenn pass. It was a big play that snuffed out some early Roughriders’ momentum.

Last Friday against the Ottawa Redblacks, his second start, Santos-Knox registered three defensive tackles and added another tackle on special teams. Santos-Knox and fellow American Kyle Knox were an effective rotation at the weakside linebacker spot, left vacant when Ian Wild was sidelined long-term with an arm injury after Week 3.

Does the added workload affect his energy level?

"Definitely not," said Santos-Knox, whose 15 special teams tackles are tied with Mike Miller for the team lead. "I’m one of the younger guys on this team, so I don’t have that excuse — to be tired out there. I’ve gotta fly around, I’ve got fresh legs. When I’m out there on punt, I refocus myself and know this is a special teams play, one of the biggest plays in the game. It’s the most yards covered of any play other than kickoff, so you’ve gotta be focused and have the same energy you have on defence."

Santos-Knox was confident he could adapt his skill set to the Canadian game.

"It didn’t really shock me," Santos-Knox said. "I watch a lot of film, studied the game plan a lot. It’s pretty much being in the right spot at the right time, knowing where you have to be and just playing hard, running to the ball. If you do that, good things will happen for you."

Head coach Mike O’Shea believes the 6-2, 220-pounder made good use of his study time, doing a crash course on the nuances of the CFL when he first arrived in Winnipeg. Santos-Knox is already showing signs of big-play potential.

"You’ve seen it — he already has a pick and another go through his hands, unfortunately," O’Shea said. "He’s learning our game and he certainly picks it up well. There’s certain, little things he does in practice that he understands. He’s been paying attention and he’s applying it to his game, which leads you to believe he just keeps growing as a player with the more experience and coaching he gets. He’s certainly a guy who’s maybe more mature than his age."

Where’s Jamaal?: Defensive end Jamaal Westerman, whose season was ended with an upper-body injury in the Banjo Bowl, has not been at practice this week despite indications he would be a visible presence at practice and on the sidelines for the remainder of the season. O’Shea said there was no reason to read anything into it. "He’s gone home for a couple of days," O’Shea said. "He’ll be back shortly." O’Shea also said defensive back Roc Carmichael is not expected to return to the team. Carmichael, who started 10 games and registered 27 tackles and an interception, left the team recently and is currently on Winnipeg’s suspended list.

Roster move: the Blue Bombers confirmed the signing of defensive back Zavian Bingham to the practice roster. The 5-10, 195-pounder from Jackson State was in training camp with Saskatchewan before being injured and released. Bingham attended Winnipeg and Saskatchewan free-agent tryout camps early in 2017.

No Dressler, no problem: Bombers offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice said he doesn’t expect a drop off with the injection of Ryan Lankford into the starting rotation. Lankford, a third-year player in his first season with the Bombers, will replace 10-year veteran Weston Dressler at slotback for Saturday’s game against the Eskimos in Edmonton.

"Guys don’t play one position in our systems. Everybody has to learn concepts and when you declare your roster everybody has got to be able to rotate into those different spots," LaPolice said. "Our guys have to know one through six across the field — all six spots — including the tailback. So we kind of just move everybody around one concept, so it’s less of he’s going to take someone’s role. He’s going to step in and try to make plays."

Running down Reilly: a big part of last week’s 29-9 win over the Ottawa Redblacks was the play of the defence.

Third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley was limited to just 151 passing yards — 266 yards of total offence — with the Bombers forcing three turnovers.

But as good as they were, the defence will have a much harder task this week in stopping Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly.

The Eskimos are coming off a bye and are reeling from five straight losses after opening the season 7-0. Bombers defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall said getting pressure on Reilly is paramount if they hope to leave with a win on the road.

"I think, No. 1, he makes everyone around him better. He’s tough, he’s resilient, he makes plays," Hall said. "He’s the leader of their football team, he’s the leader of the offence, so you’ve gotta go after the engine. If you’re able to damage the engine, everything else falls in place. He’s been resilient all year long, so we’ve got our work cut out for us."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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History

Updated on Friday, September 29, 2017 at 8:44 AM CDT: Adds photo

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