Emotional Bailey ready to step up for Bombers in Banjo Bowl
Rasheed Bailey needed to take a moment to compose himself.
Barely able to even get words out, Bailey was a bundle of emotion as he tried to sum up what it means to him to be getting his first start as a professional football player on Saturday for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
He carefully listened to a question from a member of the media, took a deep breath and, finally, the words came.
“I’m a little emotional,” the 26-year-old receiver said Friday at IG Field. “I’ve waited so long for this. This is my fifth year being a pro and to get my first start … it literally means everything to me.”
Since 2015, Bailey has been a part of eight different teams between the NFL and CFL.
He has been on practice rosters with the Philadelphia Eagles (twice), B.C. Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, San Diego Chargers, Cleveland Browns, Carolina Panthers and now the Bombers.
Not once during all that time did he get a chance to make a significant contribution in a regular season football game.
On Saturday, when the Bombers host the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the annual Banjo Bowl, he’ll get that chance.
Bailey was added to the roster Friday in place of injured receiver Lucky Whitehead and he’ll be in the starting five Saturday, wearing No. 88.
“I’ve been through every emotion … it’s a famous Nipsey Hustle quote,” said Bailey, who played Div. III college ball at Delaware Valley State. “
“I’ve been through everything. To be standing here in this position, I’m nothing but ready. There’s no doubt. We’re coming and we’re ready and they don’t know about this guy. But tomorrow we’re all gonna find out what 88 is about.”
What Bailey has been about this season is hard work.
He first appeared on the radar at the Bombers free agent camp in Florida in April, outshining all other receivers and talking about his side career as a motivational speaker.
He was in rookie camp as well and then earned a spot on the practice roster — what else is new? — with a strong training camp.
He was activated for a game earlier this season in Toronto but didn’t see any action.
All season long he’s been visible on the sidelines during games and making plays during practice.
“He’s loud, he’s passionate and I think everybody feels good for him,” fellow receiver Daniel Petermann said.
“He’s been great. He’s worked his ass off in practice and he’s ready to go. I know he wants this really bad.”
Injuries have become a real issue for the Bombers in recent weeks. Already without No. 1 quarterback Matt Nichols (shoulder) star running back Andrew Harris (suspension), defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and defensive back Brandon Alexander, the Bombers (8-3) will now be missing the explosive Whitehead and possibly Canadian slotback Nic Demski as they try to return to the favour to the Riders (7-3) after losing 19-17 in Regina last Sunday.
Demski is a game-time decision and could be replaced by Petermann, while Bailey could share some reps with return man Janarion Grant in place of Whitehead.
The Bombers have not passed for more than 200 yards in any of the last five games — and have had a particularly difficult time moving the football through the air with quarterback Chris Streveler at the controls — so balls will be hard to come by for the receivers. Of course, that will not dampen Bailey’s excitement.
“Every last one of those guys in there knows how hard I’ve been working,” Bailey said. “They know my passion, they know my drive, they know how much of a team guy I am. Even when I’m not playing, I’m a fan, I’m a cheerleader, I’m everything. For me to be able to go out there and put it all out there on display and for me to play, I couldn’t be more excited.”
Streveler is a couple years younger than Bailey and is a second-year pro who started at quarterback in his very first CFL game at the beginning of last season, straight out of college.
There’s no doubt his career has taken a different path, but he can still identify with what Bailey has gone through.
“He’s a passionate guy, he plays with a lot of emotion and is an emotional guy in general so he’s gonna be fired up to play and I’m sure he’ll play extremely hard because if it,” Streveler said. “I’m excited for him. I know he’s kind of had a crazy career in terms of five years without getting a start, but here he goes. He’s gonna be ready for his opportunity and make the most of it.”
Bombers’ receiver depth being put to the test
Winnipeg Blue Bombers coach Mike O’Shea has spoken all season about how much he likes the team’s receiver depth — so much so that he felt comfortable releasing Chris Matthews last week — and now he’ll get a chance to test his faith.
Rasheed Bailey will come onto the roster Saturday to replace the injured Lucky Whitehead and it’s possible Daniel Petermann will start in place of Nic Demski.
“I’m very comfortable,” O’Shea said.
“(Bailey) puts forth a great effort every single day and I think his teammates recognize that. There’s not a ball up in the air that he doesn’t fight for and believe that he’s gonna catch. In practice, when you watch him waggle, he waggles hard. He doesn’t take that portion of a pass play off. He hits the line hard and he tries to go full speed with every opportunity he’s given.”
O’Shea believes bringing Bailey, and possibly Petermann, into the lineup will be helpful for quarterback Chris Streveler, who has been the backup for most of the season but has been starting the last two weeks in place of the injured Matt Nichols.
“You quite often see a (backup) quarterback have a good rapport and a good understanding of a (backup) receiver because they practice with them a lot, throw them a lot of balls,” O’Shea said. “I’m looking forward to that.”