NEWS
11/09/2011 04:49 EST | Updated 01/09/2012 05:12 EST

Johnson wants to be first defensive back to win top CFL defensive player award

WINNIPEG - Jovon Johnson thinks it would be the right move if he became the first defensive back in CFL history to win the most outstanding defensive player award.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers cornerback was named the East Division finalist Wednesday while linebacker Jerrell Freeman of the Saskatchewan Roughriders earned the West nod.

“One thing that you can’t deny is that I’ve had an interception at every spot in the secondary this season. That’s very rare,” Johnson said. "I’ve been the guy when we needed a guy to move to different spots, I’ve been that guy.

"And I’ve done everything that my team asked me and been successful at it, so that’s the reason why I feel I should win the award.”

Johnson, 28, has been quite versatile this season. He has played cornerback, halfback and even filled in at safety last week against Calgary when starter Ian Logan was sidelined with an emergency appendectomy.

The five-year veteran led the league with eight interceptions this season, including two he took back for touchdowns. He also notched 55 tackles and five pass knockdowns.

Freeman recorded a league-high 105 defensive tackles in his third season, as well as six quarterback sacks, four forced fumbles and three interceptions.

When asked why he thought no defensive back has ever picked up the award, the native of Erie, Pa., said it might come down to respect for the position.

"They always overlook the fact that the defensive backs are the ones that cover guys and get sacks for the defensive front," he said. “It all works hand in hand, but you know, we accept it and we just roll with it.”

Johnson, who was also his team’s nominee for the outstanding player and top special-teams player awards, predicted a close vote because Freeman also had a great season.

“It’s 50-50,” he said. “Considering the success of our team, I feel like I should get the nod, but he had a tremendous year.

“He definitely played well and we’ll see what happens, but when you’re the last-place team (like Saskatchewan was), your defence is on the field a lot.”

The last time a Bomber was a finalist for the league award was in 2008, when defensive tackle Doug Brown was runner-up to B.C.’s Cameron Wake. Linebacker Greg Battle was the last Bomber to win the defensive player award in 1991 and 1990.

Winnipeg halfback Jonathan Hefney was also up for his team’s yearly awards, but any disappointment he felt was replaced by support for Johnson. He said he hopes the Bombers win the East Final on Nov. 20 so the team can be at the Nov. 24 awards night to cheer Johnson for his win.

“He’s an explosive player,” Hefney said. “He’s a big play waiting to happen.

“Hopefully, they won’t do him wrong and he should get the nod to win it.”

Hefney also acknowledged Freeman had a good season, but said Johnson has made more of an impact.

“It’s tackles versus interceptions,” Hefney said. “I think interceptions make more plays than tackles.

“And the fact that (Johnson) has 50 or 60 something tackles, that shows his versatility as well.”

Bomber head coach Paul LaPolice, who said Logan’s status for the division final is day-to-day, thought Johnson deserves the award, but admitted he’s biased.

“Congrats to Jovon,” LaPolice said. “Both (he and Freeman) are great players, but Jovon’s done a great job for us no matter where we’ve put him.”

As for why a defensive back hasn't won the award, LaPolice had a few theories.

“I would say there’s probably not that many scores from a defensive back,” he said.

“And, certainly, because there’s five of them, usually that’s another factor I would say. Because it is surprising that in a league that throws the ball so much that it hasn’t happened.”

The Bombers will practise at an indoor soccer complex on Thursday and then LaPolice is giving them four days off before returning to prepare for the conference final against Montreal or Hamilton.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version stated Jovon Johnson returned three interceptions for touchdowns instead of two.