I have a confession to make; I’m a bit of a freak when it comes to the BC Lions. That probably explains why on four hours sleep, I got up at 4:00am to make the three and a half hour trip for our annual pilgrimage to Lions training camp. Why is it so easy to get up for football, but it feels like waking the living dead to go to work?
But I digress.
Today was the first day of our five day visit to the tournament capital of Canada, Kamloops, BC, and the best word I can describe what I saw on day one is, impressive. Here are some thoughts, in a special training camp edition of the Lions Notebook.
We’ve all heard a lot about the “Tedford Tempo” but until you see it live, you can’t begin to understand how different this camp is from any other BC Lions camp you’ve seen. Everything is timed and organized down to the second. As this photo of the segment clock that Jeff Tedford brought in shows.
There is a much more business like feel to this camp, than any other camp I’ve attended. Coaches where headsets to communicate, there is less chatting and joking around by the players. You can tell they are here to work, and I haven’t always felt that way watching a Lions practice.
On the Short Side
One of the big questions at this camp is who will replace 11-year Lion Dante Marsh on the short side corner. During this session that player was Ronnie Yell, who looks more than ready to take on the challenge. Yell was one of the most impressive players I saw on the field today, and he had some aggressive battles with Emmanuel Arceneaux.
Jonathan Jennings is making an impression at camp and you could see why. He throws a very nice ball and was by far the best QB on the field in the morning session. Travis Lulay continues to pace himself, and didn’t attempt many deep throws. Travis Partridge I thought had a bit of a shaky session, while Greg McGhee had some nice completions as well, but doesn’t look as polished as Jennings. John Beck has made his way to Kamloops (18 pounds lighter) and will undergo more tests here before being given the green light to practice.
The Offensive Line
This seems to be a constant concern for the Lions and for once it would be to come to a camp and not have to talk about it. The injury to Hunter Steward certainly muddied the waters for the team but there were also some interesting observations to be made during Saturday’s sessions.
For one, Kirby Fabien is not in the first unit, replaced instead by Matt Norman at left guard, while Dean Valli is on the left. This is concerning simply for the fact that the Lions (or at least their fans) have been hoping that Fabien would return to the form he showed prior to his knee injury in 2013. Has Fabien fallen from grace that far, or are the Lions simply getting Norman work at guard to see where he fits into their plans after removing him from the centre spot?
I’ve seen a lot of reaction to the Paul McCallum release that was announced today. Some fans are mad at the way it was handled by the Lions, some are miffed to why McCallum was released at all without a proven field goal kicker on the roster and others are wondering why McCallum was even brought to camp if they had other plans, only to be asked to retire after five days.
It’s my personal belief that the Lions tried to do the right thing and let McCallum call it a day without being officially cut. They brought him to camp, because until recently they only had McCallum on the roster. When Richie Leone was released by the club and the Lions came to terms with Anthony Fera, the picture changed, but the Lions still needed to see how they performed.
At 44 years of age, even Paul McCallum admits that his best days are behind him. He’s still a very reliable field goal kicker from inside 45 yards, and his experience with every stadium in the league is second to no one in his position. But his punt average is dropping, the Lions are leaving points on the field because of his limited range, and they have two guys in camp that have looked very good.
There will be some growing pains with whoever handles the kicking duties, but it you can’t wait forever to make the switch, and the Lions feel they have two very promising kickers to choose from and may indeed keep both of them on the roster.
Only Wally Buono and Paul McCallum really know how all of this went down and in time we will all hear the story. In the meantime, the McCallum era in BC is definitely over and we wish Paul well. He’s been a great BC Lion and he’s had a hall of fame career.
Keeping it Light
At the end of the morning session, Tedford gathered his players around and told them it was time to kick field goals. Both Leone and Fera would each kick two field goals. For everyone they missed the whole team would have to do “gassers” or wind sprints for those of you unfamiliar with the term.
But there was a catch, the rest of the team was told to make as much noise as possible to try and distract the two kickers. Thankfully for them, all four field goals were made and the two kickers instantly became the most popular guys on the field.
The Lions practiced Saturday under baking hot conditions Saturday in Kamloops. Jeff Tedford chose to make the afternoon session a walk through, and it lasted just over an hour, which was no doubt just fine with the players.
Sunday is supposed to be even hotter, and the Lions will have another light day, as the club’s annual Fan Fest takes place at Hillside Stadium. It’s free for all and the gates open at 12:30. We’ll have photos and other tidbits from the event here on 3DownNation.com.