Before Janarion Grant had a breakout game in his debut with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last week, returning two punts for touchdowns in Thursday’s 26-24 home win over the Calgary Stampeders, he asked his kicker for some extra help.
With injuries and inconsistency plaguing the Bombers’ stable of returners, Grant, a newcomer to the CFL after spending time with the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, was being tapped on the shoulder to start, making him the third returner in as many weeks to suit up. In order to better prepare for a daunting Stampeders cover team, he hoped Justin Medlock would join him to go over some film after practice.
Medlock, known to be obsessed with his craft and with anyone willing to put in the added work, obliged. Soon, the two were in the film room going over previous games against Calgary, with Medlock pointing out areas he felt Grant might be able to take advantage of. That’s when he noticed a certain style of kick by Rob Maver, who is considered among the best punters in the CFL.
"Sometimes Maver can hit some low-liners that can get people and reading him can be tough," Medlock said. "So I said, ‘if you catch this ball you might get one’ and he caught the ball that was in the middle of the field and he took it back to the house."
That 76-yarder was the first time Grant had touched a ball in a CFL regular-season game, making him an instant hit with his new teammates. One quarter later, just as halftime was approaching, he did it again, returning a punt 83 yards to pay dirt. In the end, he accounted for more than half the points for the Bombers, bailing out an offence that was forced to settle for four field goals.
"Calgary is very good, so I told him don’t get too frustrated if you don’t get it too early. That’s why it’s really impressive, is because he had this great game against a team that hasn’t given up much this year," Medlock said. "He’s got some good matchups coming up here that he could do some good things if he keeps it up."
Suggesting Calgary hadn’t given up much in the punt-return game prior to playing the Bombers last week is a gross understatement. The Stampeders were among the stingiest teams in the league in that department and had not allowed a punt-return touchdown. To better understand what Grant was able to achieve, consider: Calgary had allowed a total of 208 yards on 32 punt-return attempts, for an average of 6.5 yards per run.
Steve Daniel, the CFL’s statistician, noted the Stampeders had allowed zero returns over 30 yards, with the largest run against them travelling just 20. Now they have three. Grant also added 84 yards on four kickoff returns.
"You could tell in practice that he was very explosive and really fast, but you didn’t understand how fearless he was and aggressive he can be," fullback Mike Miller, the Bombers’ guru on special teams, said. "He was hitting the holes hard and there were a few guys bouncing off him. That was the only thing I didn’t know, because we don’t have padded practices. That was the first time really seeing him do it, so that was awesome to see."
What makes Grant’s story even more notable was how he earned his spot.
He signed on July 23 and worked out with the practice team, catching balls from the Jug machine. Then he was added to the scout team, providing a warm body for key special-teams drills.
It wasn’t until an injury to Charles Nelson and an off game by Kenny Walker that Grant was inserted into the lineup.
He’s done nothing but impress his teammates and coaches since then.
"He plays faster than he gets clocked, but he has an ability to stop on a dime, get north and break a tackle if he needs to," Bombers special teams co-ordinator Paul Boudreau said.
"That one game was a pretty good bar to set. You hope it’s not a one-game flash in the pan. You hope that we can sustain that for the rest of the year."
INJURY REPORT: the list of non-participants at practice included receiver Darvin Adams, defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld, defensive back Chris Humes, OL Cody Speller and linebacker Thiadric Hansen. First-round pick Drew Desjarlais worked in Speller’s spot.
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.
Updated on Tuesday, August 13, 2019 at 10:34 AM CDT: Photos added.