Bisons' Black blossoms

ADAM WAZNY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:44 AM ET

Brad Black might only be the fifth or sixth receiving option in the Manitoba Bisons offence, but don't think for a second he's not a large part of the attack.

The fifth-year wideout is the No. 1 guy in the Bisons punt return game, a special teams unit that has flown under the radar as the offence and defence garner much of the credit for an undefeated start this season. Black has been electric, leading the nation in return yards (215), leading Canada West in yards per return (10.75), and providing the Herd offence with instant field position more often than not.

"(Head coach Brian) Dobie has done a great job putting the right guys on the field in order to get us those yards," the Winnipegger said yesterday, just days after he put up 133 return yards on seven chances in a 35-28 win over Calgary last Saturday. "You can be the fastest guy in the world but if you don't have people blocking for you, you're not going to get anywhere."

Black has become one of the most exciting players on the Bisons in recent years, but it didn't just happen overnight. His speed and physical ability were always present but it took some maturity -- both in his game and his approach to it -- to shape the athlete into a bonafide threat on the football field.

"Brad has become more coachable, simple as that," said Dobie, thrilled with the way Black and his special teams unit has performed this season. "Don't get me wrong, he's never been a problem, but he's become a more mature athlete. He's become more patient. He's sees things better on the field."

That maturity, that vision, was never more evident in last Saturday's 35-28 victory over the Dinos.

On one return, Black picked up the ball off the ground and started to make his way up the field. Recognizing a Dinos player was holding the edge on the punt coverage and that he needed to get to the outside to make a meaningful gain, the fifth-year Bison moved up into the middle of the field, causing the defender to leave his lane and attempt to make the tackle. The Calgary player reacted right into a waiting blocker, though, taking him out of the play.

With the edge now clear, Black stepped around the swarm of bodies and turned nothing into something.

"It was a thing of beauty, I can't remember seeing him do that before," Dobie said. "It happened in two seconds, but it showed that he is really getting it. Last year, two years ago, he would have tried to beat the guy on the outside. He's generated a lot of faith in the other 11 guys now, where before, he was all over the map. He had a bad habit of going east-west, trying to use his speed to beat guys. Now, he's a little more north-south.

"He's trusting his teammates more, and they're trusting him to stick with them."

"We've been together for two or three years now and you're seeing us starting to gel," Black added. "You know what people are going to do, and that's a big thing. Field position is an important part of the game and when we start to get into the later games, into the bad weather down the stretch, it's going to be more important."

Fourth-ranked Manitoba (3-0) takes on No. 2 Saskatchewan (3-0) at University Stadium Saturday. Game time is 2 p.m. (101.5 UMFM).


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