The BC Lions play their final pre-season game tonight at UBC against the Edmonton Eskimos. Unlike in Calgary, the starters are expected to play the first half of the game and it will be the first real chance to see what the systems of Coach Jeff Tedford will look like in 2015.
This is a new offence, and the Lions want to use this game to define what kind of team they are going to be.
Here are five areas to watch in tonight’s game.
This is obviously the most important area to watch in the game. Lulay seemed like a kid in a candy store following this week of camp, and he is eager to get into game action. The off-season rehab plan has been a success so far, and all that’s left to do is face some live ammunition.
Lulay is slated to play the first half of the game, and will be doing so against the very aggressive starting defence of the Eskimos. Chris Jones only knows one way to play, so the Lions offensive line had better be ready to protect their starting QB.
Lulay has spoken about the Lions using this game to dictate what kind of team they want to be, and a huge part of that hinges not only on him staying healthy, but whether or not he’s able to return to his MOP form of 2011.
The Lions have worked hard to have Lulay adapt certain traits of his game so it will be interesting to see those subtle differences and how quickly he can get back into a groove following a long layoff from game action.
By all accounts Andrew Harris is ready to go, and will play football for the first time since dislocating his ankle last season. The plan heading into camp was to have Harris ease into things, but injuries to other players sped that process up and Harris hasn’t looked back since.
The only test remaining is to put his ankle under the stress of real game conditions, but there seems to be a maturing attitude with Harris.He’s assumed a real leadership role on the team and feels he has something to prove. Harris looks bigger, and to me anyway, looked faster at training camp. Like Lulay, his return is crucial to the Lions chances this season.
The Lions offensive line will face a stiff test versus the blitz happy Eskimos. Jovan Olafioye holds down the right tackle spot, while on the left the battle seems to be between Josh Aladenoye and Tommie Draheim. The new man in the middle is Jason Foster, and at the guard spots it should be Kirby Fabien and Dean Valli starting. Fabien had been backing up Matt Norman who won’t play because of a knee issue. It was reported last week that Fabien may have also suffered a knee injury, but thankfully he returned to practice the next day.
Also keep an eye on T-Dre Player who won some praises from coach Tedford following the 1st preseason game, and Cameron Thorn. Campbell Allison, the Lions 2015 5th round selection should also get a look along with Cody Husband.
On the defensive side the starting four will likely be Jabar Westerman, Khreem Smith, Michael Brooks and Alex Bazzie. This is an area that has to be better for the Lions in 2015, not only getting to the quarterback but plugging up holes against the running game. Newcomer Ese Mrabure-Ajufo will likely get a chance to show his talents in the second half.
The Lions have brought in some solid talent at the receiver position and will look for their holdovers to have better years. The featured attraction of course is the ‘Manny Show’, and by all accounts Emmanuel Arceneaux had a very strong training camp.
Beyond Arceneaux, Bryan Burnham has also showed well and newcomer Tim Vizzi is impressing the Lions as well. Shawn Gore and Marco Iannuzzi should start the game along with Austin Collie and Lions fans will also look forward to seeing the two new big tight ends the Lions brought in, Cam Morrah and A.C. Leonard. Both of them not only have great speed for their size, but will also be counted on to provide blocking when the play calls for them to do so.
The battle between kickers Richie Leone and Anthony Fera will come to a head on Friday. Both have been very impressive on kickoffs and punting the ball so it’s likely the winner will be chosen based on their field goal kicking.
The return game is a big question mark following the release of Tim Brown. No one has really stood out, but expect to see a plethora of candidates auditioning against the Eskimos. Some names to look for; Alex Tillman and Darius Lane.