The return of CFL football is upon us, and as training camps break across the league, all eight teams are setting their sights on winning the Grey Cup. For the first time in a couple of seasons, the BC Lions are going to have a very competitive training camp. The off-season saw the team release several veterans, many of the big name variety in an effort to build a younger, faster team. Here’s our 2 cents about where the battles will take place at camp and who to keep your eye on. In part 1 of our training camp primer, we’ll examine the offense.
In addition, if you’re heading to training camp you can get the Lions Training Camp Guide and print off what you need.
This season Wally Buono chose to name his starter early. And after last season and the evaluations that take place following it, he decided that Buck Pierce was going to be his man. Buono feels that Pierce will be better prepared with the early knowledge and the security of knowing he is the man. This isn’t to suggest Pierce can coast through camp, but it allows him the luxury of not looking over his shoulder while he gets his reps and gets used to a new look offense on several fronts. Pierce underwent a rigorous off-season training program with professional trainer Chris Boyko to strengthen his body for the tough grind of the CFL season. For the first time in a couple of years he entered the off-season without having to rehab an injury, which he says was a real blessing, and it allowed him to start workouts for this season almost immediately. There is no doubt of Pierce’s talent, or his leadership skills or toughness, but his biggest obstacle will be staying off the injured list, while getting used to new personnel.
The dependable Jarious Jackson still leaves the Lions in an enviable spot at the QB position. The number two spot is his to lose, but his penchant for being a team player, and his success coming off the bench in the past will serve him well as Pierce’s support system. The fact is, Jackson is better coming off the bench, and his different style can also change the offsense up during a game, should things be going poorly, or he needs to fill in for Pierce. If the Lions offense is designed to use speed to stretch the field, Jackson’s arm could fit in quite well with that system.
The number three spot will be a battle between incumbent Zac Champion and newcomer Travis Lulay. Champion fared well in limited reps last season, and you that Buono’s nose for QB talent must have seen something he liked to bring him back this season. The goal for Champion will be to take strides to improve and take the next step to replacing Jackson at some point. If he can have the career that another Louisiana product Matt Dunigan had, the Lions will be rewarded for their patience.
Travis Lulay has seen time in NFL Europe and has resided on the roster of both the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints for brief periods. He has some talent for carrying the ball as well, rushing for over 14oo yards in his college career. The Lions saw enough at a free agent camp to offer the 25 year old Lulay a training camp spot and he’ll be interesting to watch as camp proceeds.
Shock waves rippled through Lions fans when it was announced that the club was releasing slot back Jason Clermont. Many fans were very upset at the release, but it was just the tip of the iceberg as far as changes to this club in the off-season. Jason Clermont is a great player, but the Lions as an organization felt that a) they needed to get faster at the slot back position, and b) that emerging star Paris Jackson was being under utilized in the offense. A lot of times teams were doubling and triple teaming Geroy Simon knowing Clermont doesn’t have game breaking speed to go deep. Jackson will slide into Clermont’s spot, and that move in theory should give Simon a break on the double teams more often.
With so many changes on offense, Geroy Simon is going to have to have a big year for the club. The move of Paris Jackson to the slot should give teams more to think about, and free Geroy up for more balls. If that’s the case look for Simon to have a stellar year.
For that theory to hold water though, the Lions need to adequately replace Jackson at wide receiver though, and they are going to be looking to last season’s mid-season arrival, speedy Ryan Grice-Mullen to fill part of that void. Grice-Mullen showed flashes of his speed and talent last season, but was never fully integrated into the offense. With a full camp under his belt, and an inside track on the new rookies, he’s in a good position to earn himself a starting roster spot. Other holdovers from last season include imports Rufus Skillern, Cory Rodgers, and Canadians Lyle Green and O’Neil Wilson. Rodgers returns after suffering a season ending Achilles injury last season. Import Jerel Myers returns for another stint with the team after plying his trade in the Arena Football League, and should also have an inside track on a job, having been here before and showing promise before leaving for the AFL.
Newcomers Otis Amey, Emmanuel Arceneaux, Jason Jones, Robert Long, Anthony Russo, Terence Scott (all imports) and Canadians Matt Carter and Greg Hetherington round out the players looking to catch balls this season for the Lions.
You can bet the Lions were not counting on losing last years sensation Stefan Logan in the off-season. In fact you can probably bet the Lions were designing a nice chunk of their offense around his talents. The Charles Roberts experiment is over and the Lions have no fewer than seven backs on their roster heading into rookie camp. Ian Smart will be the one with the most experience, but you can be assured the Lions would like to find another Stefan Logan amongst the candidates. The Lions would also hope to find a new returnee if they did choose to go with Smart as the starting back.
Amos Allen returns for his second Lions camp. The shifty back and former Stefan Logan training partner was cut last year when the club wanted to concentrate on Logan, and they still had Joe Smith who was expected to carry the load. Wally Buono is also said to be keen on the talents of Martell Mallet according to Lions beat writer Lowell Ullrich on his Fifth Quarter Blog:
“Also signed is Martell Mallett, a player Buono fell in love with over the winter upon watching tape. A recommendation from one of Mallett’s coaches at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the one and only Carl Kidd, probably didn’t hurt his chances of being offered a contract either.”
Homegrown talent Andrew Harris, whom the Lions can use a territorial exemption for is an intriguing player, who in his final to games of junior football gained 780 yards along the ground, scored seven touchdowns and averaged over a first down on every carry. The Lions will have time to bring him a long, but with Jamall Lee also possibly in the stable, the Lions could be sitting on an explosive all Canadian backfield in the near future.
Emmanuel Marc, Charles Pierre and Damian Sims will also compete for spots. At the fullback spot, non-imports Alexis Bwenge and Rolly Lumbala will get a chance to compete for the position. The Lions asked Lumbala to shed some weight in the off season to get quicker reports say he has done that. It appears the club has plans for non-import veteran Lyle Green at slot back according to their roster page and the comments of Ullrich in a recent article in the Vancouver Province.
We covered the offensive line and a possible replacement for Rob Murphy, but the line is going to be rebuilt to the left of veteran Angus Reid. With both Murphy and Bates gone, the best battle at camp may b e for the left tackle and guard spots. Import Walter Stith comes in to camp 20 pounds heavier and as Murphy’s backup last season will be considered the front runner, while Martin Bibla, Darren Marquez and 2008 first round pick non-import Justin Sorensen will also compete for the spot. Bibla comes at the reccomendation of former Miami teamate Sherko Haji-Rasouli, and has NFL experience. Sorensen was a tackle in college, and depending on how he shows in camp could make things interesting, but will more than likely share left guard duties with Dean Valli to start his professional career. The Lions may use the loser of the battle to backup RT Jason Jimenez. The Lions have an abundance of Canadian lineman including Lorne Plante listed as a centre on the roster, guards Andrew Jones, Jon Hameister-Ries and newly drafted Matt Morencie who will fight for backup sposts behind Angus Reid and Sherko Haji-Rasouli.
Kicker Paul McCallum had a solid year in 2008. His punting was particularly impressive, and the veteran kicker recently signed an extension with the club. The Lions have invested a lot of time in local product Sean Whyte and his patience deserves more than a look at camp. The challenge will be to keep Whyte on the practice roster again without having him plucked by a team like say the Toronto Argonauts who are auditioning new kickers after the retirement of Mike Vanderjagt and the tradin Noel Prefontaine to the Eskimos last season.
Ian Smart’s bid for the running back spot may or may not come to fruition, but the Lions will look at some of the receivers in camp for the return game. Smart’s work on returns has been great the last two years but you wonder how many more touchdowns or big games he could have if he just had that extra gear. This could be an area where the Lions add a new look if they find a receiver with wheels they want to develop a little more and keep on the roster, and find a running back out of the mix.
The status quo remains for the Lions offensive coaches in 2009. Dan Dorazio will handle the offensive coordinator and offensive line duties again, while Jacques Chapdelaine handles the receivers and some play calling. Stef Kruk returns to coach the quarterbacks. Even the coaches have to look in the mirror when the ultimate prize is not achieved, and while there has no doubt been some redefining of the offense personal wise, it remains to be seen if that will hold true scheme wise.
The talk going into camp has been “younger” and “faster”. The team will likely add new wrinkles with the move of Jackson to the slot, and hopefully they can find a back to compliment an offense that was no doubt at one point at least, being geared towards the talents of Stefan Logan. Add a speedy receiver to stretch the field, and the Lions could have the offense they were thinking about when the overhaul began.