As the little white guy from the low-profile directional school, driven to succeed and eager to stick it to everybody who doubted him, rookie wide receiver Daniel Braverman was the odds-on choice to be this year’s fan-favorite phenom at Bears training camp. And the seventh-round pick from Western Michigan hasn’t disappointed through the first five practices at Olivet Nazarene.
With a lot of eyes on him, Braverman has been impressive in every facet of camp. He’s shown not only a knack for getting open and the catch-and-go quickness that every slot receiver needs, but also an NFL-level toughness to make plays versus tight coverage. He can take it and he can dish it out.
He’s not infallible — in Monday’s practice, Braverman fumbled after making a reception, but that was forgotten moments later when he made a diving, one-handed grab in a one-on-one drill vs. rookie cornerback Kevin Peterson. And of course, the crowd responded. The fans have done that with every play Braverman has made. They love the kid. And even though Braverman is locked-in on making the team — “can’t focus on the outside influences,” he said — he hears the crowd rooting for him.
“Yeah, I’ve noticed it,” Braverman said. “That’s why I try and sign as many autographs as I can — because I remember being that kid watching an NFL practice and I know how it feels. If I can give back, that’s what I want to do with the position I’m in.”
But that’s a rare acknowledgement of the outside world for Braverman, who is pretty much living in a vacuum at training camp, with a total focus on doing whatever he can to prove the doubters wrong and make the Bears’ roster.
“Coming from Florida, [being a fan favorite] is not really normal. I’m not really the guy that people want to root for,” said Braverman, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale. “That’s why you care about your inner circle and the people that support you and you take that [support] in stride.”
As for his early “success,” Braverman isn’t impressed. He’s too focused on getting better.
“I just want to show them I work hard and I can act like a professional and help this team — that’s all I want to do,” said Braverman, who was second in the nation with 109 receptions last season, for 1,377 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“There’s ups and downs every day. It’s about correcting yourself and getting better. You’re never satisfied and never at your best every day. You go watch film, there’s something to correct every day. You chase that perfection, but you’ll never get there. It’s a daily process.”
In a competitive wide receiver room, teammates have noticed Braverman’s driven approach. “He’s definitely come into camp with a great mind-set,” Marc Mariani said. “He’s got a ton of talent. The sky’s the limit. He’s got a great mentality and great work ethic. So he’s got all the tools. He could put it together, that’s for sure.”
That driven mentality shows in just about everything Braverman does. Especially on the field, where he seems to enjoy being physical and proving he can take a hit.
“It’s just a mind-set when you play football — you have to be tough,” Braverman said. “A lot of people like to use the word savage — you have to have that mind-set. Wherever the ball is, I have to catch it. That’s my job.”
Braverman still has a long way to go to establish himself. But he’s off to a great start. Though he gets back-up reps, he’s developing a rapport with Jay Cutler. “We’ll watch film and I sit behind him,” Braverman said. “We’ll watch a route and he’ll say, ‘Take this … take the extra revolution … Don’t do this. Do that.’ And I write it down. This is Jay Cutler — you want to learn everything you can from him.”
And for what it’s worth, Cutler has a history of clicking with possession receivers who do as their told and are where they need to be when they need to be there: Earl Bennett at Vanderbilt. Eddie Royal in Denver. Bennett with the Bears. And after Bennett was injured in 2011, Dane Sanzenbacher filled that role.
But that’s all too much too soon for Daniel Braverman. Even the first pre-season game is out of his view at this point.
“I’m just worried about practice tomorrow and my meetings tonight,” he said after practice Sunday, “critiquing on what I have to get better at today and focus on tomorrow and when that [preseason game] comes, it’ll come.”