Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner and Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake had to prove themselves in the Canadian Football League before getting their chances in the NFL.
Before the 2009 season, the Miami Dolphins summoned two Canadian Football League stars for a morning workout. Cameron Wake of the B.C. Lions went first, then Brandon Browner of the Calgary Stampeders.
Both players still burned with an NFL dream, one that had been deferred, against their will, for years. But the Dolphins made it clear: Just one would be chosen out of this tryout.
“It was me or him,” Browner recalled. “They told both of us, ‘We’re going to sign one of you guys.’ They signed him. I had to go back another year.”
Browner, of course, would eventually get a shot with the Seahawks in 2011 after four seasons in the CFL. And now, when Seattle meets Miami on Sunday, these two CFL refugees are firmly established as key figures in their defenses.
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Wake, 30, ranks fifth in the NFL with 9 ½ sacks and is regarded as a candidate for defensive player of the year. The defensive end earned a Pro Bowl berth with a 14-sack season in 2010.
Browner, 28, made the Pro Bowl last year after leading the Seahawks with six interceptions and setting the franchise’s season record for return yards (220). Now, in his second year starting at cornerback, Browner has become an anchor in one of the NFL’s best secondaries.
Both players are testaments to perseverance in the face of obstacles, and also to the vagaries of evaluating football players. It was noted Wednesday to Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson — a college teammate of Wake’s at Penn State, when he went by the first name of “Derek” — that Wake and Browner are a reminder that scouting is an inexact science.
“Yeah, and how wrong people are a lot of the times,” Robinson replied. “Miami got lucky.”
So did Seattle. Browner had caught Pete Carroll’s eye as an oversized defensive back at Oregon State, but when he departed the Beavers with two years of eligibility remaining, the NFL missed his potential. Browner went undrafted, signed with the Broncos, but landed on injured reserve because of a broken forearm. Denver cut him during training camp the following season, and Browner’s only recourse was to join the Stampeders.
Wake had an even more arduous journey to the NFL. He, too, was undrafted out of college, and was cut by the Giants after a look-see in 2005. For two years, Wake was out of football, working as a mortgage broker until the B.C. Lions gave him a shot in 2007. “I remember to this day that when I stepped onto their campus at camp, I was the fourth-string defensive lineman,” Wake said Wednesday in a conference call. “I told myself, ‘I’m going to take this spot. It’s open, it’s going to be mine.’ “
Wake did just that, and then turned the CFL on its ear. He won defensive player of the year honors both seasons and led the league with 23 sacks in 2008. By 2009, he said there was “a melee” among NFL teams eager to sign him.
“It was a tough road coming from sitting on the couch, fourth string, starting in the CFL, all the way to playing in the NFL in the Pro Bowl,” he said.
The message is clear, Browner says. His success, along with Wake and Dolphins punt returner Marcus Thigpen, who played for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2010-11, is proof that talent abounds in Canada.
“Guys that played with us, and who know us personally, feel they can be here,” Browner said. “And I personally feel there’s a lot of guys up there that can play here.”
Added Wake, “I was up there for two years and saw a lot of guys who could play the game of football. It’s unfortunate a lot of us don’t get to show that to the world on the grandest stage.”
But now Wake and Browner have both made the cut.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org