Bruce Johnson

Winnipeg Blue Bombers extend DB Bruce Johnson’s contract

WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have locked up defensive back Bruce Johnson for three more seasons.

Johnson was set to become a free agent in February. His contract extension will keep him in Winnipeg through 2018.

The import has started all 28 games he has played in since joining the Bombers in 2014. During that time, Johnson racked up 91 defensive tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery.

“Bruce is a very key part of our defensive secondary,” said Bombers general manager Kyle Walters. “He’s been extremely steady and reliable for us since he first stepped on the field last season. It was important for us to lock up a key piece of our defense moving forward and we’re pleased Bruce also felt the desire to remain a Blue Bomber.”

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Bruce Johnson healthy but can't get back into Bombers lineup this week

You couldn't blame Bruce Johnson if he barged into head coach Mike O'Shea's office and said he was ready to play this weekend.

Never mind that the Bombers defensive back suffered a heel injury against the B.C. Lions, missed the first practice this week and is slated to sit out Saturday's game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. As the man who is replacing him this week, Johnny Sears, found out earlier this season, once you leave the Bomber lineup due to injury it's difficult to get back in it after returning to full health.

Johnson practised fully the last two days, but Sears will still get the start on Saturday against the Tabbies.

“I feel fine, man,” Johnson said after Thursday's practice. “I'm just taking it one day at a time, basically for precautionary reasons, to make sure everything is fine. We still got a long season and playoffs, so I want to be here when things get crackin'.”

Johnson said it's normal for a player to worry about getting his starting job back, but he knows there's some injuries with which you can't take a chance.
“I'm human, but I've been through this,” he said. “I've had experience, but I know I can't rush my body.”

Johnson had a great start to his NFL career with the New York Giants, but an array of injuries led to his release and his signing with the Bombers earlier this season. He has one interception, 33 tackles, three pass knockdowns and two tackles for a loss for the Blue and Gold as their field halfback this season.

Johnson injured his heel trying to break up a pass against the B.C. Lions on Sept. 13.

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Bombers DB Bruce Johnson is a happy no-name

His name is Bruce Johnson, and he’s a starting halfback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Never heard of him?

He’s totally cool with that.

“It’s good that they haven’t said my name for messing up,” Johnson said Friday.

The Bombers completed their preparations for Sunday’s 11th annual Banjo Bowl at Investors Group Field, where once again Johnson will be tasked with covering one of the opposing team’s top receivers. The fact not a lot of people have heard of Johnson is a good thing, because it means he hasn’t been getting torched. He’s ready to break out of his shell, though, because he played his college ball at the University of Miami, where they invented swagger.

“Hopefully you can hear my name if I get some pick sixes or something,” the 26-year-old from Lake City, Fla., said. “I have that U blood in me, so if you see me around here doing something crazy, don’t mind me. That’s just how we act. I’ve been kind of reserved because this is my first year, but I’m about to start letting it loose a little bit.”

Johnson is the reason the Bombers traded Alex Suber to the Toronto Argonauts earlier this week. When Suber went down with a hamstring injury in the second pre-season game, Johnson stepped in and didn’t let go of the starting role. He is one of four Bombers with interceptions this season, and the list of receivers he has shut down is an impressive one. He has lined up against the likes of S.J. Green, Fred Stamps, Jason Barnes and Weston Dressler, whom he will see again on Sunday when the Saskatchewan Roughriders pay their annual post-Labour Day visit.

Another reason you why might not have heard of Johnson is because opposing teams might be steering clear of him, lest he pluck the pigskin out of the air and take it the other way.

“They come at me a little bit. It’s not as much as I thought they would, but they come at me,” Johnson said. “When they do, when the challenge does arise, I’ll take it. You win some, you lose some, but at the end I feel like I win the majority.”

He must be doing rather well, because the Bombers secondary as a whole is winning the majority of its battles this season. An opposing receiver has yet to hit the century mark against the Blue and Gold, who have turned the trick three times in 10 games. Winnipeg is fourth in the CFL when it comes to fewest passing yards allowed per game.

Plenty of that success can be attributed to Johnson, who made the New York Giants as an undrafted rookie in 2009 and proceeded to record the first pick six in AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys, off Tony Romo. It was his second career game.

“That set me off, because I was coming in undrafted, I finally made the team, and then I get a chance to play,” he said. “I played the first week and then the second week I came and the sky was the limit from there. I played throughout the rest of the season.”

Johnson earned the most performance-based pay of any Giants player in 2009, giving putting half a million dollars in his bank account when all was said and done. At this point he was probably thinking he would be in the NFL for as long as he wanted. Injuries, however, put him on a path to the Canadian prairies. He injured his knee six games into the 2010 campaign and then tore his Achilles tendon during New York’s 2011 training camp. He went back to Giants camp in 2012 but suffered a serious shoulder injury and the G-Men released him.

Just like that, his NFL days were over.

After spending a year waiting for the call that never came, Johnson decided to turn his attention north. He had no problem starting over in a new league that was in a different country.

“I’m having a great time here. I like it here,” Johnson said. “It’s just new. I’m from a small town, so where I’m from we don’t get to see too much. Just getting out and seeing different things is like an accomplishment. So if I have the means to go see different places in another country, I’ll do it. So this was a plus. I wasn’t down about coming here at all.”

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Bruce Johnson Not Giving Up His Starting Spot

Before this season, Alex Suber had appeared in 65 CFL games and started 65 CFL games.

Now he can’t even get on the field.

“It’s frustrating,” the pint-sized defensive back said after today’s Bomber practice.

The Middle Tennessee State product is a man of few words, and he didn’t have too much to say about his current predicament. Despite missing just seven starts over the last four years due to injury and playing well enough to keep his job while others struggled, Suber finds himself on the outside looking in after a training camp injury led to Bruce Johnson getting his starting job.

Suber said it’s a strange situation because he believes he can still be a dominant defensive back, not because he’s been starting for the Bombers for the last four years.

“I wouldn’t say it’s weird,” Suber said. “I’m a player. I’m up here to play. So if I’m not on the field it’s going to be weird, regardless if I was starting last year or the year before.”

Suber was the starting strong-side halfback through all of training camp until pulling his hamstring in the team’s second pre-season game. He was still nursing the injury in Week 1, but he was ready to play against Ottawa in Week 2. He’s still waiting to get back on the field.

“Alex has been extremely professional,” head coach Mike O’Shea said today. “He works extremely hard every day, and he makes the people around him better. That’s the guys competing against him from the offensive side. He makes them work. He knocks balls down. He gets balls out of people’s hands. He’ll pick the ball if the quarterback throws it even off a little bit. He provides good, tight coverage. He’s been extremely professional.

“I can appreciate that it’s going to be frustrating for Alex Suber. As camp broke and Alex wasn’t ready to start the season, Bruce Johnson stepped in and hasn’t shown any reason why he shouldn’t be there.”

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Bruce Johnson figures he's ready for Ricky Ray

Ricky Ray? Blue Bomber Bruce Johnson has heard of him. Never seen him play, though.

Except on film, that is.

On Thursday, Johnson will get up-close-and-personal with the future hall-of-fame quarterback when his Bombers host Ray and the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL season-opener for both teams.

Johnson will be part of a green-as-grass Winnipeg defensive backfield, one of three players filling in for injured starters.

“I hear they say he’s a good quarterback,” a casual-sounding Johnson said of Ray. “Has a good deep ball, can look you off and everything. But with film and everything, I think we’ll be fine with what we have out here.”

Johnson, 26, has reason not to be star-struck.

His brief NFL career included practising against Eli Manning and playing against Drew Brees, when he played 22 games for the New York Giants in 2009 and 2010.

Newcomer Maurice Leggett will in a similar boat against the Boatmen, starting his first CFL game, but having NFL experience to lean on.

“I’ve gone against Brett Favre, twice,” Leggett said. “Pre-season and regular season. He could thread a needle between me and you right now.”

And what has he heard about Ray, who leaves pass defences in shreds on a regular basis?

“I know he has a great deep ball,” Leggett said, predicting an “entertaining” game, Thursday.

“Entertaining means I’m getting a lot of action.”

Leggett and Johnson will fill in for the injured Korey Banks and Alex Suber, while Canadian backup Matt Bucknor will play instead of the limping Donovan Alexander.

“You let ’em go,” head coach Mike O’Shea said. “I’m not trying to scare them, by any means. They need to do what they’re doing, play within the system, play their techniques and they’ll be fine.”

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Bruce Johnson still hungry

One member of the large secondary group that has distinguished himself lately at Bombers training camp has been Bruce Johnson, a former New York Giants safety.

The Florida native spent four years with the G-Men, but injuries derailed his NFL career and now he finds himself in Winnipeg, trying to keep the dream alive.

“I’m still hungry,” Johnson said Tuesday. “I got a taste of it before and had a promising career. Unfortunately injuries came along, so I just want to show people I still got it. I still love this game at the end of the day.”

Johnson had a strong mini-camp in Tampa, and he has performed well during training camp despite being a member of the third-string defence. He likely would have had an interception in the first pre-season game if a teammate hadn’t tipped the ball just before it arrived, and he had a pick on Saturday night in Calgary during Winnipeg’s pre-season finale.

On Tuesday he was running with the first-team defence since Alex Suber was on the sidelines with an injury.

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