"I just love the guy"
His teammates call him ‘Money’ because when it comes to clutch kicks, Justin Medlock has consistently delivered during a nine-year Canadian Football League career, the last four with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
But if you ask the veteran kicker which player might be a special teams difference maker in Sunday’s Western Semi-Final against the Calgary Stampeders, there is not even a nanosecond of hesitation in his answer.
“I feel like Janarion (Grant) is the best special teams player in this league,” said Medlock of the Bombers’ ace kick returner. “He can dominate a game and I think he could take us to the Grey Cup.
“I’m constantly in his ear… I just love the guy. He’s a scary returner and I’m sure on that side, (the Stamps) they’re probably thinking about him a lot. I mean, if you’re a coach you probably don’t want him to dictate this game. I played with Brandon Banks (in Hamilton) and he took us to a Grey Cup and almost won us a Grey Cup.”
Grant’s three games against Calgary in 2019 were simply sensational: He made his CFL debut against the Stamps in August and promptly returned two punts for TDs – becoming just the eighth player in league history to do that in one game – while racking up 302 kick-return yards.
He had 22 yards on two punt returns and 106 yards on three kickoff returns in the loss in Calgary in October, and then followed that up by returning a missed convert for two points and almost busting a missed field goal for a score before being knocked out of bounds on the sideline after a 61-yard return.
“They tackled his hair,” said Medlock, referring to Mike Jones knocking Grant out of bounds by, yes, grabbing his locks. “That was a tough one. He also took an extra point back and we won by one point so he’s going to play a big factor.
“He gets it. I’m constantly in his ear, so he knows where to catch the ball. But he’s also so shifty and he hits it north and plays bigger than he looks. He’s actually kind of a small guy. But he hits it and if we can just block for him and give him a chance… he almost hit one against Sask, he almost hit another one against Montreal. He’s a great player.”
When it was suggested Grant ought to adopt a close-to-the-wood haircut like Medlock, the veteran hoofer grinned.
“We told him… we told Lucky (Whitehead) one time, he was another one that got tackled when they grabbed his hair. Janarion, they grabbed his hair. I was like, ‘Man, cut that thing. Put it in there. It’s time to be a professional. Your hair needs to be high and tight.’”
The CFL announced its divisional Most Outstanding Player Awards finalists on Thursday, and for the second straight year, the Bombers will have three players up for the six awards.
Defensive end Willie Jefferson was named the West’s top defensive player, Mike Miller was nominated as the Most Outstanding Special Teams Player, while Stanley Bryant is trying to capture his third consecutive Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman Award.
Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea offered his take on the three award finalists…
On Jefferson: “He’s a helluva good player who makes a lot of plays. That’s the one thing that can separate good from great, is playmaking ability. He’s made a lot of different plays this year.”
On Bryant: “That’s where the opposite comes true – you don’t see many plays being made with Stanley in the picture in terms of giving up pressures and sacks. When your team leads the league in rushing he’s a big part of that. He is as steady as they come out there, very athletic and super smart and a real quiet leader for us. I think he’s very deserving of that nomination, too.”
On Miller: “To come out of our team (as the top special teams player) would be a pretty big accomplishment with Meddy (Justin Medlock) and Janarion Grant. Those guys are top-quality players in the league. People around the league recognize that he’s a tough matchup when you get him out there.”
EXIT, STAGE RIGHT:
Bombers Dime back Anthony Gaitor has left the team, O’Shea confirmed on Thursday. Gaitor started the first 14 games of the season for the Bombers and was on the injured list for the last four, although he had been practising in the days leading up to the regular season finale.
The Bombers started Mercy Maston in Gaitor’s spot in the last game, and the veteran defensive back finished with six tackles and came up with a critical defensive play in the fourth quarter to help the club get the ball back on offence for the final drive that led to the game-winning field goal.
“I switched his roles and he decided to move on,” said O’Shea of Gaitor’s departure. “I gave him a different role and he decided not to accept it.”
Asked if he was still with the team, O’Shea was succinct: “No.”
Bombers QB Chris Streveler was a spectator at practice on Thursday, watching the session while in civvies. Zach Collaros worked with the starters again, with Sean McGuire and Trevor Knight also dressed.
Streveler was in gear and taking reps on Wednesday.
“Like I said with any guy who comes to work out we give them the evening and then check back with them in the morning and see what he can do,” said O’Shea. “He wasn’t able to go. We’ll see when we set the roster (if he is available).”
The Bombers have also welcomed back LB Jesse Briggs and RB Brady Oliveira to practice this week. As well, DT Jake Thomas was limited on Thursday with Connor Griffiths taking a lot of snaps in his place. Also not practising was DB Nick Hallett, while WR Daniel Petermann worked with the starters, bumping Drew Wolitarsky.
The Bombers will hold a closed practice on Friday, with their depth chart for Sunday’s game to be released on Saturday.
SCHOOL STILL IN SESSION:
Bombers QB Zach Collaros is still getting a crash course with his new playbook, teammates and players. But with every snap – and the benefit of a bye in the final week of the regular season – the veteran pivot is becoming more and more comfortable.
“First of all, I thank him because he’s spent a lot of time with me and (quarterbacks coach) Buck (Pierce),” said offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice. “This is somebody who wasn’t in a training camp with me, so every day I’m like, ‘All right, come into my office after practice. I want to show you these things. This is a part of our plan. How would you like it adjusted?’ to how he’s done things before. First of all, we’re trying to put him in a position to be successful. He loves football. He loves talking ball, he loves being in the room.
“I thought in the game he processed information very quickly. He saw throws very well, put the ball where it had to be and was able to lead us on drives. When we stay on the field, we’re good.”