You’re going to need some familiarity with the art of onomatopoeia to tell his story properly. Because when Mike Daly begins talking about his first taste of professional football three springs ago, it basically comes down to one made-up word that’s really a sound.
The 25-year-old Hamilton Tiger-Cats safety was training that off-season with veteran receivers Dave Stala and Bakari Grant. As he lined up for his first one-on-one cover drill with Grant he, well, we’ll let him take it from here.
“The first time I went up against Bakari, he just, whuusssshh,” Daly laughs. “Gone.”
It was humbling for sure. But it was also instructive.
“I was like, OK, I gotta do a lot more, different,” he says.
He went back to McMaster for his final season, worked with former CFLer — and defensive co-ordinator for the Marauders that year — Kevin Eiben, then returned to Ticats’ camp the following spring.
The speed of the players had slowed down in those one-on-ones. Things weren’t moving quite as quickly in practice. But once he made the team, got on the field and live bullets started flying, it was back to mind-blowing. With all the moving pieces on special teams and at times in the secondary, it was a blur in front of him again.
“Oh yeah, for sure, 100 per cent,” he says. “If any rookie’s telling you any different, he’s lying.”
Playing Western had been the closest to this amount of chaos he’d experienced prior to this. Its offence was probably the most complex in Ontario university football and was designed to create the most confusion.
Similar to the pros?
“It was nowhere close,” Daly laughs again.
So it was back to the drawing board a third time. Recognizing his physical shortcomings were holding him back, he decided to alter himself. Almost as soon as the 2014 Grey Cup ended, he was in the Mac gym with former Marauders teammate Nick Shorthill and Toronto Argo Andre Durie.
Every day they worked out, with Daly having just one goal by the end. Get faster, stronger and more explosive. Basically, more like so many of the American guys who come up here. Be prepared for the speed he now understood he’d be seeing.
As for the mental side of things, he’d been working on sharpening those by volunteer-coaching at his alma mater’s training camp last year and serving as a defensive consultant with the Hamilton Ironmen. Teaching forces you to understand what’s being taught.
Since arriving at his third pro camp, he’s looked impressive. Enough that he’s caught the boss’s eye.
“I have (seen a big change),” head coach Kent Austin says. “(He’s) worked really hard changing (his) body, getting bigger, faster, stronger. Just a guy that is paying the price in the off-season and cares.”
Then came the first pre-season game. A week ago Monday, the new-and-improved, physically rebuilt Mike Daly — carrying 10 extra pounds of muscle — collected an interception and on another play, laid a hellacious hit that caused the ball to pop loose for another pick. The fact that it was waved off for a penalty flag elsewhere didn’t diminish the improvements he’s made.
He’s hoping all the work and the other improvements he’s made will buy him more playing time in the secondary this season. Last year he was primarily a special-teams guy. This year he’s hoping to be a regular. On the field all the time with the defence.
As for Grant, he says the guy he blew by that first day of off-season training three springs ago is so much better now. They went head-to-head at camp the other day and Daly showed veteran patience and some new-found savvy in his coverage.
As for that initial experience they shared years ago, Grant says it wasn’t entirely Daly’s fault that the lanky receiver was a blur that first day. It had little to do with inexperience or his CIS background or anything else.
“That doesn’t matter who’s out there,” Grant says, smiling broadly. “I’m going to look good, regardless.”