TORONTO - “I still see myself as a receiver,” Mike Bradwell says.
All the second-year Argonaut has to do now is convince head coach Jim Barker.
Bradwell says he has had a hoot this season playing on a special teams unit that is perhaps the best in Argonauts’ history, but from a purely personal standpoint there’s no getting around the fact he’s taken a step back in his career.
The McMaster alumn got major face time at receiver last year when Andre Talbot went down with a wonky back.
“I was forced to play in my first year, which isn’t such a common thing. Last year I got to see the field as receiver a bit more. It was great to be out there when the bullets start flying. It was a great experience, finding out what the game is like at the pro level,” he said yesterday as the Argos prepare for the season finale this weekend in Montreal.
Bradwell had 350 yards on 25 catches last season under Bart Andrus on a team that won just three games.
While Bradwell began this season as a starter, it didn’t last long. When he caught a touchdown pass last weekend it was his first of the season. It was also just his fifth reception of the year.
“It’s a bit of ratio issue,” said Bradwell of the Canadian/import juggling act teams go through every game. “I’ve just got to wait my turn.”
Some fear his turn may have come and gone.
If that is so, it remains to be proven. Canadian receivers tend not to be as fast, as quick or as big as their American counterparts, so the one thing they need to be able to do is hold on to the ball and run accurate routes. The jury still is out on whether Bradwell can do that consistently.
“He’s never going to blow anyone away with speed but he can always find a way to get open and he’s a competitor,” said Barker, who believes Bradwell (now just 24 years old) could still develop into a competent CFL pass-catcher. “At some point, absolutely. He has a lot of Jeremaine Copeland in him in the sense that he has a knack for finding holes.”
Unfortunately one of those holes was too often the one between his hands.
“He just didn’t catch the ball consistently enough. He knows that,” Barker said. “He knows he has to catch the ball more consistently. When we go to training camp next year he has to be more consistent. That’s what a receiver has to do. When he gets an opportunity, he has to make plays. That’s what he did the other night (on a TD pass from Cleo Lemon).”
The upside of all this is that Bradwell has emerged as a solid special teams player under assistant coach Mike O’Shea.
“It has been fun to be part of the great return game that we have. I never played special teams much coming into the CFL,” said Bradwell, who led the country in receiving yards and touchdowns his final season at McMaster. “I’ve tried to soak up every thing he says ... learning from him I’ve been able to do quite well out there.”
Toronto’s special teams have propped up a sputtering offence. A pair of trick plays helped pull off an upset over Saskatchewan and fake punts were instrumental in wins over Montreal and Winnipeg.
Bradwell has settled in nicely, if unexpectedly, on the cover team.
“We never knew but Mike O’Shea said he had a chance and that’s because he bought into it,” Barker said. “He’s become a great special teams player for us; a physical guy who has his body in the right position. He understands the game.”
It probably saved his roster spot when he lost job at receiver. “What makes Mike so valuable is what he has done on special teams,” said Barker, “(and) he’s a valuable guy for us if we need to go with a Canadian at receiver.”
So far that need hasn’t presented itself to Barker.
“To have only five catches (Bradwell pauses) as an athlete you want to be on the field,” he said, choosing his words carefully. “That type of thing happens in careers. I thought I progressed as the year went on last year ... all you can do is prepare to play every week.”
And every week he plays, he is in one sense a forgotten man; in another a man reborn.