Braidwood comeback off to good start

Edmonton Eskimos defensive lineman Adam Braidwood gestures to the crowd during game action against the BC Lions in Edmonton, July 30, 2010.
arry Wong, edmontonjournal.com

Resuming your career as a defensive lineman after an injury-enforced 2-1/2 year hiatus is too intensely violent an endeavour to be compared to getting back on the proverbial bicycle.

In the case of the Adam Braidwood, he got back at it for the Edmonton Eskimos on Friday night at a position he had rarely played, at that.

Throw in a dash of anxiety about how his fitness level would hold up and, well, let’s just say Game 1 of the comeback was laden with meaning for the 26-year-old Braidwood, and on several levels.

It would be splendid to report that Braidwood went out there and dominated the B.C. Lions as the Eskimos grounded out a 28-25 victory, the club’s first of the season.

For Braidwood, his teammates and coaches, it was enough that he did his job and made a difference, not to mention a pair of tackles.

“You know, the first half, I was lucky we were only rushing three defensive linemen most of the time,” Braidwood said after practice on Tuesday. “It took a little time to catch my wind.

“No matter what kind of shape you’re in, it always takes a bit of time to get your legs. I had some things going through my mind, like ‘Man, am I in shape?’

“But as the game went on, I felt more and more comfortable. By the time the fourth quarter came around, I was ready to play another game. I woke up the next morning and I felt awesome, and I’ve felt good all week.”

His teammates felt good about having Braidwood playing for the first time since he tore up his knee in a game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Oct. 26, 2007, even if some had no idea what to expect from him.

“He came out and played with a lot of emotion,” said defensive end Kai Ellis, who wasn’t here in 2006 or ‘07 when Braidwood played a total of 32 regular season games.

“Any time you play with energy and emotion, you see a lot of stuff happening.

“Dario (Romero) is a fiery guy, Braidwood’s a fiery guy and a competitor, and (Kenneth) Pettway has some fire in him, too. Any time you get around a group of guys that have a lot of energy, you start to see a lot more things. A lot of people feed off stuff like that.”

Ellis reckons that Braidwood’s well-known background in mixed martial arts and boxing translates into effective play on a football field, long layoff or not.

“Football, all it is, is hands,” Ellis said. “He has a hand-fighting background, and he uses his hands really well.

“If you have that kind of background, it should pretty much be a piece of cake for you. Whoever has the quickest hands wins.”

It may help, but since being drafted first overall by the Eskimos in 2006, Braidwood’s CFL career has not been a piece of cake.

He had an impressive rookie season in 2006, recording five quarterback sacks, forcing four fumbles and making 20 tackles. After playing three or four games at tackle that first season, Braidwood settled in as a rush end and a team leader by the time his 32-game stint was halted by the knee injury in 2007.

Three surgeries, two on his left knee, and two completely missed seasons later, Braidwood found himself a born-again rookie defensive tackle having to prove himself all over again to a new group of teammates and coaches.

“It was tough because I came from being one of the team leaders, I was a team captain and had a big say in what happened around here,” said Braidwood. “I was respected by a lot of my teammates, a lot of the coaching staff.

“I started to lose that, more and more. Football is an unforgiving sport, where you’re only as good as your last play.

“As time has gone on, 2006 and 2007 is forever ago. I’m lucky a lot of the fans still respected and appreciated what I did. The fans were always good to me.

“I did have a lot of members of our coaching staff and management who still knew that I could be a dominant player in this league. I think now, some of the newer guys are starting to see, ‘OK, this guy works hard in practice, he played pretty well in the game.”

Getting to that game, though, sitting out the Eskimos’ first four starts of this regular season, wasn’t sitting well with him.

“I was definitely bitter,” said Braidwood. “It was a miserable four weeks not playing.

“I really felt that I had lost a lot of respect for myself and it was a tough thing. I battled with depression and different emotions. I just felt I had lost myself. It’s one thing to be done in football; it’s another thing to have it taken away from you and have to earn it back.

“Everybody expected me to come back, be awesome right away and make an impact right away and it didn’t happen for four or five weeks.

“That was probably the toughest part.”

For his part, Eskimos head coach Richie Hall was more than satisfied that Braidwood was “assignment sound,” and held his own. Awesome can wait, for now.

“He did his job,” Hall said. “He forced the double teams and that’s one of the things we ask of our guys up front to do, to force the double teams to keep the offensive linemen off the linebackers to allow them to make plays.”

“You look at (middle linebacker) Maurice Lloyd, I think he had six tackles, and T.J. Hill had nine.

“For us, Adam was aggressive, he was tough, he was enthusiastic. And he held out (lasted). I think that’s one of the biggest things for him was to be effective from start to finish and that’s what he was.

“The more he plays, he’s just going to get better and better.”

jmackinnon@thejournal.canwest.com

Updated Wednesday, Aug 4, 2010