The start of the 2015 season for the BC Lions begins today in Ottawa against the 1-0 Redblacks. It’s anyone’s guess as to what we will see from the Lions and with a new head coach and no fewer than 22 newcomers, the Lions are now the youngest team in the Canadian Football League.
Let’s take a look at what to watch in all three phases.
When BC Has the Ball
The return of Travis Lulay and Andrew Harris provide a big boost to the Lions offence. But the key to any success for both players is going to be the play of a new offensive line.
Only Jovan Olafioye remains from 2014’s group of starters and two other imports, have been added in Centre Jason Foster and Left Tackle, Tommie Draheim. Kirby Fabien and 2nd year national T-Dre Player fill out the starting five that will hope to protect Lulay and open holes for Harris.
Helping to provide protection will be the dependable Rolly Lumbala, who shed some weight in the off-season to also play a bigger role in the offence. The Lions also signed too big bodied tight ends in Cam Morrah and A.C. Leonard, who both have good speed and hands.
The Lions intend to run a high paced offence, but that doesn’t mean rushing to the line and getting off the next snap. Watch for the Lions to quickly get to the line and send receivers to stop and look for tells from the RedBlacks defence. The receivers will reset and if they like what they saw they will run the same play, and if not they will switch to a different option.
Harris has lead the league in combined yards in the past for a reason and the Lions will look to get him into open space out of the backfield. When he comes out look for Shaquille Murray-Lawrence to switch up the pace as the smaller scat back type of runner.
With the extra practice time the Lions got in with their bye week, Travis Lulay will have had more time to establish timing with his receivers and the Lions have some solid for him to utilize. Manny Arceneaux had a very strong preseason and will be counted on as a deep threat. The Lions went out and signed former NFL receiver Austin Collie who is an excellent route runner and should provide reliable hands, while national Marco Iannuzzi looks to be primed for a more prominent role in the offence.
The Lions will be without Courtney Taylor who will be replaced by the promising Bryan Burnham, and it will be interesting to see if the Lions can find a way to get Shawn Gore more involved in the attack.
When Ottawa Has the Ball
If the preseason was any indication, the Lions defence is in pretty good shape, with the one question mark being the defensive line. They weren’t very effective getting to the quarterback or plugging holes against the run and the interior of the line is of particular concern. Jabar Westerman will be counted on to take his game to another level off the right side while Khreem Smith returns on the left. In the middle the Lions will start two new additions in Michael Brooks and Craig Roh.
Pressure on Henry Burris will be critical if the Lions hope to stop the veteran pivot from utilizing his improved crop of receivers led by former Lions Ernest Jackson. When Burris gets rattled that’s when he starts to commit mistakes. The task will not be easy against a much improved Redblacks offensive line led by tackle Sir Vincent Rogers.
But the line will also have to do a good job plugging the run, especially with the always dangerous Chevon Walker in the lineup for the Redblacks. If they can slow him up, that should leave the cleanup work for Solomon Elimimian and Adam Bighill.
In the secondary the Lions will have their hands full with an improved crop of Redblacks receivers. Ronnie Yell and TJ Lee had strong preseasons and will have to contain Jackson and Chris Williams. While on the other side, Cord Parks will work against Greg Ellingson.
The kicking game will be a big factor with the always dangerous Williams returning, and that’s where the Lions will look to take advantage of the leg of new international kicker Richie Leone. With new rules regarding lineman downfield this should be an asset to the Lions and it showed in the preseason.
Where things get iffy are field goals, as Leone is a punter first. He’s shown he has the ability to do the job, but his consistency is the concern, along with not experiencing some of the elements the CFL game can bring.
As for returners, it’s a work in progress after the release of Tim Brown. Marco Iannuzzi is likely to get the call at least to start the game but also watch for Murray-Lawrence and Alex Tillman.
Jeff Tedford comes with an impressive resume. He’s been away from the Canadian game for a long time, but has solid CFL experience surrounding him on his staff. While Tedford gets his team finely tuned on offence, the defence should be able to keep the Lions in games. It’s just a matter of if that will happen and how long it will take.