Chris Bauman tries to get by Hamilton's Carlos Thomas in a Aug. 9 game.There are a few names that always seem to pop up on one CFL roster or another, and Chris Bauman is a perfect case in point. Following a strong CIS career with the Regina Rams, Hamilton made Bauman the first-overall pick in the 2007 CFL Draft, so he's always had plenty of talent and the expectations for him have been lofty. However, that's never quite turned into massive production; his best season statistically was 48 catches for 558 yards with the Tiger-Cats in 2008, and that was followed by a couple of less-than-dominant years in Hamilton, an eventual release, a brief stint with Edmonton and then another release. The circumstances had some calling him a bust (but don't use that word around his sister), and teams' consistent interest in him despite a lack of tangible statistics had some of us wondering if CFL franchises should look elsewhere for Canadian content. Bauman's landed on his feet in Calgary this year, though, and his 14 catches for 196 yards thus far put him on pace for a career-best season that might vault him from roster-filler to regular contributor and could also help him live up to some of the initial hype he carried. From Allen Cameron of The Calgary Herald:
"The last time I was having this much fun was my second year when I was starting at slot (in Hamilton)," said Bauman, who posted a career-best 48 catches for 588 yards in 2008. "Every time you step on the field, there's an opportunity to make plays. I'm really enjoying it, I like the guys here, and practice is actually fun now.
"That's a big difference. It's not hard getting up in the morning, getting here early and working hard in practice because you know you'll be playing during the game and you'll get opportunities to catch the ball and make plays for your team."
Oddly enough, it might be those diminished expectations that have helped Bauman fit in with the Stampeders. He still carries part of the mantle of a first-overall pick, but his more recent struggles meant that no one was expecting him to come in and dominate in Calgary. Moreover, he's made an effort to think less and let his instincts take over; that may see counterintuitive, but it's in line with the famed saying (possibly Yogi Berra's) that you can't think and hit at the same time. Much of what goes on in sports isn't about conscious analysis, but rather reflexes, instincts and experience. With less pressure on him to perform, Bauman's focusing on bringing those elements to the front, and he told Cameron that's helped him reduce his drops:
"I think the biggest thing is that I'm not really thinking about it," said Bauman after a sun-splashed practice on Thursday at McMahon Stadium. "During camp, I'd drop a ball, and then I'd be looking around and I wasn't getting yelled at. It was nice and refreshing. Now, I don't even think about it. I just go out and play. The biggest thing now is that I'm not really worrying about catching the ball. I just let my instincts take over because I've been doing it a long time. I just let it happen."
What Bauman's story may show in the larger picture, though, is that you shouldn't give up on CFL talent too early. It often takes a while to develop draft picks into key contributors, and sometimes even after they adapt to the game, there's still a question of finding the right fit in terms of position, role, offensive scheme and teammates. Not every player can perform in every situation, so a key for general managers and coaches is either altering their schemes to fit the talent they collect or picking talent based on their schemes (this corner generally endorses the former approach, as finding talent tends to be the toughest part). There's always a chance that if someone didn't work out in another city, he might just be a nice pickup for you, too; see how much midseason additions Arland Bruce and Tad Kornegay helped B.C. last season. CFL general managers and coaches have given Bauman plenty of opportunities, and that's come with some risk; the question of if Bauman would ever reach his potential was a very open one. However, it's now looking like Calgary may reap the rewards of taking a chance on him, and that's good news for both Bauman and the Stampeders.