A need to lead

Bombers receiver Bailey sees himself in a new role this season

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Rasheed Bailey has always considered himself a leader. To suggest he exudes passion for life would be putting it mildly, especially for someone who has spent years as a motivational speaker, addressing young athletes in particular.

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Rasheed Bailey has always considered himself a leader. To suggest he exudes passion for life would be putting it mildly, especially for someone who has spent years as a motivational speaker, addressing young athletes in particular.

Now entering his third season in the Canadian Football League, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers receiver feels he can fill a leadership hole on the team. With the departure of receiver Darvin Adams, who signed with the Ottawa Redblacks during the off-season after six years in Winnipeg, Bailey hopes he can pick up where his mentor left off.

“He was the foundation of what this organization was and what it represented, and what this receiver corps was. I learned a lot from (Adams),” Bailey said this week from Bombers training camp. “Darv, he set the tempo, and now the reins and the torch has kind of been handed to me, in that sense of being the energy, being the one that’s gonna set the tempo in practice, on the field, blocking, doing the small little detail things, and also making plays.”

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES “He was the foundation of what this organization was and what it represented, and what this receiver corps was. I learned a lot from (Adams),” Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Rasheed Bailey said.

Bailey likened Adams to a big brother, someone he could lean on when times were good and bad.

He was there when Bailey struggled to get into the lineup in his rookie year in 2019, limited to just 19 catches for 206 yards and no touchdowns, playing in only five games. And Adams was there to celebrate his breakout year in 2021, which included starting in all 14 regular-season games (owing to a COVID-19 shortened year), racking up 52 catches for 629 yards and five touchdowns.

It’s the kind of example Bailey wants to be for younger players – he’ll be 29 in September – and the support the other veterans in the group could also use. Head coach Mike O’Shea said he doesn’t expect Bailey to be anyone else other than himself.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES “This is gonna be a big season for me. But you got to build up these small practices in training camp,” said Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Rasheed Bailey.

“I don’t think we are ever asking any player to be someone else. They can only be who they are and it’s always way more important as a leader to be authentic and be yourself. Obviously, when a guy like Darvin leaves there’s a void in certain aspects of leadership that will get filled in their own way. I don’t think you need the exact formula from last year, you just need authenticity,” O’Shea said.

“For Rasheed, what that growth will look like for him is his ability to move around more, play multiple positions. He’s already really good around the box for us. And a higher level of consistency. I’m sure we’ll see that this year and that will be his marker of true growth.”

The Bombers might have lost Adams, as well as Kenny Lawler, the CFL’s leading receiver last season now with Edmonton, but Bailey believes the group still packs a considerable punch.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES “We got a bunch of guys that are buying into what we’re trying to do. We have a really skilled, smart, veteran group,” said Bombers player Rasheed Bailey.

“This is gonna be a big season for me. But you got to build up these small practices in training camp,” Bailey said. “Everybody’s trying to get used to being out here on the field, putting pads on for the first time, getting used to being around the quarterbacks again. Everybody’s trying to really take that next level up and, for me, I’m trying to take that next level up. So, I’m not really saying much. I’m really just focusing on all the small details. But I’m having fun, and as the days go on, people will start hearing me a little bit more.”

With Adams and Lawler both gone, the Bombers have brought in veterans Greg Ellingson and Jalen Saunders to fill the void. Bailey has been impressed by both newcomers, as well as returning veterans Nic Demski and Drew Wolitarsky.

But it doesn’t stop there. While those players are expected to earn starting roles, nothing is guaranteed. And Bailey has seen some of the rookies really shine so far in camp, only adding to the intensity of practice and level of competition.

“We got a bunch of guys that are buying into what we’re trying to do. We have a really skilled, smart, veteran group. Even the younger guys, they’re all tapping in and everybody’s buying into what we’re trying to do,” Bailey said. “That’s why training camp is important. We got to build the foundation first. We got to find what our identity is first. And I feel like we’re going to be the team that everybody’s gonna be coming for. That takes handling things day-by-day, and we’re ready for it.”

With Lawler, who signed in Edmonton, gone, could Bailey evolve into the Bombers deep threat? Or might he remain as one of the club’s two slotbacks? He’s lined up at both during training camp.

What is clear is Bailey has set some lofty goals for himself this season, after an offseason dedicated to “the small details,” strengthening both his mind and body. But as much as he likes the chatter, he prefers to keep those goals a secret for now, and instead let his play do the talking.

“I’ve definitely got some goals,” Bailey said. “But I’m gonna keep those personal. Just know they’re high.”

Jeff.Hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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