RENTON — By now, this is a familiar story to Seahawks fans.
Despite showing his physical talents in college, a player goes undrafted, and after a brief stint in an NFL training camp, he ends up in the Canadian Football League. Eventually, however, his standout play in the CFL catches the interest of NFL teams, and after coming to the NFL as a late bloomer, he not only makes a roster, he becomes a starter, and even a Pro Bowler.
This time, however, we’re not talking about Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner.
Yes, Browner took the path mentioned above, but so too did one of Seattle’s opponents this week, Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake, who like Browner had to take the long road to the NFL, but is making the most of his opportunity while making NFL teams look silly for ignoring him so long.
Wake’s path to NFL stardom was even more roundabout than Browner’s. After going undrafted out of Penn State in 2005, Wake was signed by the New York Giants, but was cut during training camp. He spent a year out of football, working as a mortgage broker before reviving his career in Canada with the B.C. Lions.
“I still remember to this day that when I stepped onto (the B.C.) campus at camp, I was the fourth-string D-lineman,” Wake said on a conference call. “I was four deep, and I told myself I’m going to take this spot, it’s open, it’s going to be mine. Throughout training camp I worked my way up the depth chart and I remember starting the first game against Toronto and I had three sacks. It was a tough road coming from sitting on the couch, to fourth string, to starting in the CFL, all the way to playing in the NFL in the Pro Bowl.”
It’s rare that a player makes the leap from the CFL to the NFL and has a lasting impact. It’s even less common when they do what Wake and Browner have both done by not just winning starting jobs, but playing at a Pro Bowl level. Wake signed with the Dolphins in 2009 after spending two years with the Lions. In an odd twist, Browner and Wake both worked out for the Dolphins at the same time back in 2009, though only one landed a job.
“When he got signed to Miami, I was down there and it was down to me and him,” Browner said. “They told both of us, ‘We’re going to sign of one of you guys.’ And they took him.”
Wake wasn’t a starter in his first season with the Dolphins, but he still managed 5.5 sacks. He then enjoyed a breakout year in 2010, piling up 14 sacks while earning Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors.
Browner took a similar route, proving himself in Calgary before the Seahawks and coach Pete Carroll, who coached against Browner when the cornerback was at Oregon State, brought him in for a look prior to last season. Browner finished his first NFL season with six interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, and went to the Pro Bowl.
And when Wake and Browner both take the field Sunday it will be a reminder of just how inexact a science talent evaluation can be in football.
“It just makes you wonder who we’re leaving out there,” said Seahawk fullback Michael Robinson, who played with Wake at Penn State.
Now that Wake and Browner have overcome the odds to establish themselves in the NFL, they know they can serve as examples to the many NFL hopefuls grinding away in the CFL.
“Most definitely,” Browner said. “They played with us, they know us personally, and they feel like they could be here. And I feel like there are a lot of guys up there who could play here.”
Yet as much as Browner and Wake inspire CFL players dreaming of a career in the NFL, there isn’t going to suddenly be a plethora of players coming to the NFL from Canada. Even so, they are opening eyes and making teams think twice about ignoring players in leagues like the CFL and the Arena League.
“It doesn’t happen that often, so it is a surprise when it does occur,” Carroll said. “Brandon was such a unique situation that we had background with him or we would’ve probably overlooked him, too. We were very lucky on that one. It’s just not that likely that it happens. I can’t remember very many guys that it’s happened to. … We’ve been tuned in, though, after hitting it with Brandon. We’ve been looking for those guys to see if there is another one up there somewhere — and I’m sure there are.”
Guard James Carpenter, who has missed the past two games with a concussion, returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday, and has been cleared to play. Carroll said it was too early to know if guard John Moffitt (knee) will be ready to start Sunday.
“We’ll see how the week goes and see what happens,” Carroll said.
The Seahawks also signed receiver Charly Martin to the active roster from the practice squad, filling the roster spot of safety Winston Guy, who was suspended for four weeks on Tuesday for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.