Receiver Arland Bruce has always been a guy who came to the park ready to practise and perform on game days. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)
Six weeks into the 2011 season and it already feels like there has been a lot of football played. The reality is that we are not even a third the way into the schedule.
Once again I am reminded that it is a long season and so much can happen prior to the start of the playoffs in November. With an eight-team league, no one is ever out of the chase for the Grey Cup prior to October.
In the CFL, a slow start does not mean that you are out of the race. I remember a few 15-3 seasons with the Calgary Stampeders in the late 1990's that ended with disappointing losses in the playoffs.
A successful season is often based on the team that you become through the season, rather than the team that came out of training camp.
A CFL campaign is long and can change in an instance.
Bruce saw writing on the wall
This brings us to the trade of Hamilton receiver Arland Bruce III to B.C last week. This move changes the dynamic of both teams as we hit August.
I think the trade to the Lions was a surprise to everyone except Bruce. I really couldn't figure out why a legitimate all-star receiver was looking so average and unenthused on the field.
His production was way down (four catches for 104 yards), and there was plenty of talk that Bruce was battling a knee injury. Some were commenting Bruce was upset that his role was diminishing in Hamilton's offence, and then stories emerged about how he was changing his name to Runako Reth in protest of his slave name. The fact that stories questioned his character really started to confuse me as Bruce has always been a guy who came to the park ready to practise and perform on game days.
What I believe happened is that Bruce nicked up his knee in training camp, which gave opportunities for a few of the young Ticat receivers to get on the field and showcase their abilities.
The Hamilton brass then got together and started to crunch numbers, leading to the possibility of unloading Bruce's high salary before deciding to replace him with more economic options.
As a veteran player who has been around the block a few times, he would know when the writing appeared on the wall.
Bruce would have understood that something was in the works when his role in the offence was being pulled back. Understanding his eventual fate and knowing that his services were being shopped around the league, Bruce started to press the issue by becoming more of a distraction and resisted playing in games due to injury.
It is very difficult to step onto the field each week and perform with enthusiasm for a team that you know doesn't want you around, and that you would not be playing for by the end of the season.
Trading for Bruce was extremely uncharacteristic for general manager Wally Buono. This deal goes against his philosophy of purchasing a player who has an inflated contract and is at the tail end of his career.
But the Grey Cup is in Vancouver and Bruce is a perfect fit for what B.C. needs right now. It's why this deal happened.
The fact that the Lions made the decision to begin the season with such a young group of receivers was surprising.
After five weeks, Buono had lost his patience with his young receivers and started working the phones in order to get some experience injected into the offence. Hamilton can afford to be patient with young receivers, while the Lions can't.
Bruce is a proven CFL all-star, who was third in the league last year with 86 catches for 1,303 yards. He demands respect when he enters a locker room. The encouragement to Lions fans from Geroy Simon's tweet: 'Help is on the way', is the same support B.C. players felt upon hearing the news that Bruce was headed West.
After losing their first five games of the season, the Lions were in desperate need of something that would inject belief back into the strength of the team. With mounting losses, players started to doubt themselves. Signing Bruce immediately impacted the mindset of players in a positive way.
I had the privilege of playing for Buono for eight of my 10 years in the CFL and I have never seen him as aggressive in the free-agent market during the course of a season as I have seen this year. Lions owner David Braley has always been tremendously supportive of Buono and has obviously given him the green light to sign who he feels can help put a winning product on the field, regardless of the price tag.
The players that Buono has brought in have already changed the chemistry of the team, which was evident this past week as the Lions were was able to get their first victory of the season by beating the Saskatchewan Roughriders 24-11 at B.C. Place.
The introduction of Bruce, who didn't play but was standing on the sidelines, will be a perfect addition to spark the Lions' offence.
Bruce is an offensive threat that demands attention from defences. He will now balance the field out so that opposing teams can't continue to roll extra help over Simon. He will also create additional space for the rest of the receivers, and take some of the pressure off youngsters like Shawn Gore and Akeem Foster, who will now have time to grow into their roles.
Quarterback Travis Lulay has another target he trusts will be in the right spot at the right time.
Some have questioned whether Bruce is going to be able to handle playing second fiddle to Simon. But Bruce will get plenty of touches on a team that puts the ball in the air 40 times a game, and at the end of the day, he wants to win.
Bruce has a great opportunity to demonstrate the impact that he can bring to a team. He also has the opportunity play on a team that desperately wants him around as they build a team that can challenge for the Grey Cup in November.
Do you have improvements to suggest for this page?