When it comes to days at the office, Wally Buono can certainly say he had a great one as free agency opened across the CFL on Friday. After the firestorm of the Geroy Simon trade, it had to be a feel good day out in Surrey. Here is a recap and some thoughts on today’s activity.
The Lions started the day by announcing the re-signing of veteran receiver Paris Jackson and an extension for Korey Banks. As Lowell Ullrich of The Province tweeted, the extension for Banks was just part of the annual off-season routine for the Lions and the veteran defensive back.
The Jackson signing was news simply because there is a notion that after two years of accepting a lesser role, Jackson and the Lions are indicating that he’ll be given every opportunity to use his experience and get back on the playing field. Jackson had asked for his release from the Lions, but his leadership among the receiving corps could be the reason why the Lions had second thoughts, especially after the departure of Geroy Simon.
With those signings out of the way, the Lions turned their attention to their most high profile free agents. Free agency began with the news that Solomon Elimimian had decided to remain in the CFL. Farhan Lalji from TSN modified partner Dave Naylor’s tweet by saying Elimimian would not be signing in BC.
That set off some excitement on Twitter, with fans of other teams wondering how Elimimian would fit into their team’s plans. Shortly after that, reports began to surface that the Lions had re-signed Elimimian, though it took a while for all sides to finally confirm. The Lions had Elimimian take a medical prior to the deadline, and obviously feel there are no serious issues there. It’s believed that Elimimian received a similar deal to that of Adam Bighill, who he will have a whole training camp to get in sync with heading into the 2013 season.
The news got even better when the Lions announced (before Elimimian was confirmed) that they had signed 2012 most outstanding offensive lineman Jovan Olafioye to a new deal. It was widely known that Olafioye would explore his options in the NFL, but after last year’s experience and the lack of a real commitment by anyone this year, he appears to have made the decision to carve out a nice career here in BC. That’s great news for the Lions (and for Travis Lulay) who would have had a big hole to fill on the offensive line, particularly with the question marks at the guard spots heading into training camp. In fact the only downer on the day was the fact the Lions weren’t able to add any depth for the offensive line, thanks largely in part to teams re-signing their own players and the crop being rather thin this year.
The Lions also plucked defensive lineman Julius Williams from the Edmonton Eskimos to add to their stacked defensive line corps. Williams, listed at 6’2 257 pounds, is entering his third year in the league and was deemed expendable by Edmonton GM Ed Hervey after his club signed Odell Willis away from Saskatchewan moments after free agency opened. Williams has compiled 25 tackles and 7 sacks over his 24 regular season and 3 playoff appearances. The signing could give the Lions two Williams as defensive ends, with all-star Keron the other bookend.
The Lions did lose James Yurichuk to the Toronto Argonauts on Friday. The Ontario native chose to sign in his home province rather than re-up with the Lions and you can’t blame him. His work on special teams will be missed, but Yurichuk wasn’t going to see much playing time behind McKenzie, Bighill and Elimimian.
Defensive back Cauchy Muamba also entered the day as a free agent but as of this blog had not signed with anyone yet.
So all in all it was a great day for the Lions and their fans and who knows, there could be another tweak or two in the coming days.
We’ll leave the last word to the boss:
It goes without saying that every BC Lions fan would like to see a perfect ending to Geroy Simon’s career. But with news this week that Simon’s agent has asked the Lions to gauge trade interest for his client in lieu of the two sides unable to agree on a restructured contract, there is work to be done if Simon is to end his career in BC Lions orange.
It would of course just be plain wrong to see Superman playing for another CFL club. He has become one of the greatest if not the greatest BC Lions of all time and GM Wally Buono understands what he means to the football fans in this province. With good young talent waiting in the wings, Buono must decide on a role for the CFL’s all-time leader in reception yardage. Simon of course suffered through a season of hamstring injuries and during his rehab the team saw good performances from the likes of Ernest Jackson, Shawn Gore, Nick Moore, Courtney Taylor and others. They also went undefeated in Simon’s absence.
Assembling a CFL club is a constant puzzle that changes on a yearly basis. The salary management system (SMS) is a huge piece of that puzzle and for the better part of his career, Geroy Simon has been one of the higher paid players on the team and deservedly so. No BC Lions player has been more valuable to the franchise, not only for his play on the field but building the Lions brand and entrenching himself in the community. This is what makes Buono’s job so difficult when it comes to what to do about Simon.
From the club’s perspective, the first preference is to have Simon back. From Simon’s perspective, that should happen with an elite receiver’s salary, thus the current stalemate. The club recently rewarded Travis Lulay with a new deal averaging $450,000 a year. Not an uncommon number for the elite quarterbacks in the league. They shed the salaries of Arland Bruce and Byron Parker by releasing them and they hope to get the promising Canadian Shawn Gore signed to a new deal, unless he can find a home in the NFL. But as much as this negotiation is about money it’s also about getting their young players more playing time, while keeping the team competing for a Grey Cup. Simon could definitely play a role with the receiving core, it’s just a matter of what role he would be willing to accept and what he wants to be paid.
While fans get attached emotionally, it’s a trait that Buono can ill afford despite the enormity of the decision he’s facing. He’s always been able to make tough decisions in the past, and he’s usually right when it comes to assessing the talent mix on his teams. Alan Pitts, Jason Clermont, Aaron Hunt, are all players that come to mind as difficult decisions Buono had to present to fans in pursuit of making the right football decisions. Of course there has been an error or two as well. The premature demotion of Angus Reid is a perfect example and to Reid’s credit he sucked it up and proved Buono wrong, racking up back to back all-star seasons since.
Geroy Simon is special and he deserves to be treated with respect and dignity and by honouring his request to gauge trade interest, I believe the Lions are doing just that. I really hope the two sides can come to some sort of agreement and every BC Lions fan gets to see him finish his career they way he should. Fans will be upset if he leaves, no doubt about it. But a new deal has to work for both sides, with the goal of making the Lions the best team they can be.
At the end of the day it’s a problem Wally Buono will resolve one way or the other and judging by his track record, the Lions will be just fine, whatever solution he arrives at and Geroy Simon will always be a BC Lion, one of the greatest of all-time.
With GM Wally Buono on his annual Hawaiian vacation, there hasn’t been much news of late coming out of the Lions Den. But as we had into 2013, there are a few nuggets worth discussing including an attempt by a certain team to get Buono to move east.
Fabien Looking South
Scott Mitchell of the Calgary Sun reports that 2011 first round draft pick Kirby Fabien will have a chance to impress NFL scouts after being named to the West roster at the East-West Shrine game. The game includes the best that college football has to offer and is a high exposure event for players to get the big league’s attention.
The Lions of course are still hoping to have Fabien in their lineup, as soon as this year, and with uncertainty along the offensive line due to injury issues to Dean Valli and Jon Hameister-Ries, never mind the possible departure of Jovan Olafioye, Fabien heading south would be a blow.
That said it was the reason he returned to the Calgary Dinos instead of signing with the Leos last season. A chance to play in the NFL is every young players dream and you can’t fault Fabien for pursuing his for himself and for his family. If it doesn’t work out for him, Fabien told the Sun he has no issues with playing in the CFL.
“It’s a great option. It’s a great city and a great organization. If I play in the CFL, I’ll be playing for the Lions.”
Buono Approached by Ottawa Group
Tim Baines of the Ottawa Sun reports that Jeff Hunt and the Ottawa Sports & Entertainment Group are leaving no stone unturned in their search for a quality football man to run their operation. Baines writes that Hunt approached the Lions about permission to speak with GM Wally Buono, who quickly informed them he was quite happy in Vancouver.
It’s of course a compliment to Buono and to the Lions organization that he was approached, but Lions fans everywhere have to be pleased it didn’t go any farther than a courtesy phone call. The Lions have a solid and stable football operations team in place, a luxury that many teams would love to replicate.
Growing the Brand
I recently attended a Seattle Seahawks game and couldn’t help coming away total impressed. I’ve been down before but this trip really hammered home how well the Seahawks have marketed the “12th Man” concept to the fans. Everyone there buys in and on game day it is an event all around the stadium.
From the Blue Thunder percussion group, the tailgating, Touchdown City and the raising of the 12th man flag, the Seahawks brand is everywhere. The city takes pride in having the loudest stadium in the NFL, and if you haven’t experienced it live, you haven’t heard loud.
Of course it’s a different league and a different culture south of the border; Saskatchewan and Winnipeg would be the smaller scale versions of the Seahawks model, with the Riders marketing their fans as the 13th man. With their new stadiums in the works, both teams have a real chance to build on the pride they take in having the loudest stadiums in the league.
When the building is full and the fans are into the game BC Place is a very loud stadium, but those occurrences are all too rare in BC. The crowd is good and becoming more involved, but it could be so much better if they felt part of the whole experience. The Lions were all over the media last off-season following their Grey Cup win, but it didn’t result in the increased attendance they had hoped for. As a fan you can’t help to be somewhat jealous of how passionate fans in these markets are about their teams.
It is up to the team to find something for the fans to get behind so they can help build and instill this type of passion among its fan base. They only need to look 2 hours south to get some really great ideas.
All the best to the Seahawks this weekend! Go Hawks!
Wally Buono has his work cut out for him when he returns from his annual Hawaiian vacation later this month. several BC Lions are about to become CFL free agents this off-season and more are in the option years of their deals.
The Lions potential free agent list is as follows:
WR Emmanuel Arceneaux*, DT Aaron Hunt, OL Andrew Jones, RB Jamall Lee, WR Robert Long, CB Dante Marsh, K Paul McCallum, LB Anton McKenzie, DT Khalif Mitchell, DB Ryan Phillips, WR Anthony Russo
Here are the remaining teams and their potential free agents this off-season:
S Etienne Boulay, LB Marc-Olivier Brouillette, CB Mark Estelle, G Scott Flory, LB Ray Fontaine, DE Jermaine McElveen, DL Jeff Robertshaw, LB Walter Spencer,DB Paul Woldu
QB Dalton Bell, DB Matt Black, DE Alex Buzbee, LB Kevin Eiben, DE Ben Ishola, FB Jeff Johnson
OL Rob Murphy, CB Byron Parker, OL Dominic Picard, S Willie Pile, LB Jason Pottinger, OL Taylor Robertson, CB Jordan Younger
FB Agustin Barrenechea, LB Isaac Brown, WR Matt Carter, DE Justin Hickman, T Jason Jimenez, DT Matt Kirk, K Justin Medlock, OL Simeon Rottier, DE Garrett McIntyre*, DB Jason Shivers
QB Buck Pierce, QB Alex Brink, QB Joey Elliott, WR Aaron Hargreaves, WR Greg Carr, OL Brendon LaBatte, OL Glenn January, OL Steve Morley, OL Andre Douglas, LS Chris Cvetkovic, DT Don Oramasionwu, S Brady Browne, S Ian Logan
DE Phillip Hunt*
RB Graeme Bell, RB Wes Cates, SB Jason Clermont, WR Andy Fantuz, RB Stuart Foord, LB Jerrell Freeman, CB Nick Graham, DE Brent Hawkins, DB Tristan Jackson, P Eddie Johnson, WR Cary Koch, DB Leron Mitchell, OL Marc Parenteau
LB Marc Calixte, P Burke Dales, WR Arjei Franklin, DB Brandon Isaac, OL Tim O’Neill
FB Mathieu Bertrand, RB Chris Ciezki, LB Rod Davis, RB Samuel Fournier, OL Kyle Koch, DL Etienne Legare, RB Calvin McCarty, WR Andrew Nowacki, DE Greg Peach, LB Mark Restelli, K Derek Schiavone
Can you smell it? Can you feel it getting closer? Yes fans the long hibernation known as the CFL off-season is coming to an end and across our country football fans are getting their colours ready for another great season of Canadian football, as training camps open everywhere and every team has its sights set on a trip to Vancouver in November for the 99th Grey Cup championship.
For the BC Lions, it’s a big year. The team ended the 2010 season playing some very good football and almost knocked off Saskatchewan in the Western Semi-Final. Heading into this year’s camp the club hopes to build on that momentum, return to the top of the CFL’s West Division and play in the Grey Cup in their newly renovated state of the art stadium.
But to get there the journey will be a long one and it all starts on Sunday, June 5th when those looking to make the 2011 squad hit the field at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops BC.
With the Lions finishing strong last season, the club elected to make continuity a key ingredient in their off-season planning. With the exception of a trade, a few free agent signings, a defection to the NFL and an unfortunate run in with the law, many players will be returning to the den to build on the momentum they ended last season with.
If you’re planning to head to training camp, BCLions.com has all you need to know on their training camp page. Bookmark it because if there are changes to the daily schedule they will post updates there. You can also download the club’s official Training Camp guide as well.
So all that said, take a look at the Lions as they head into training camp and begin their journey to a Grey Cup appearance in 2011!
A new leader emerges:
Last season the Lions fielded a very young team and many of the players were learning the CFL game. By the end of last season that growth was evident and the Lions started to show they had a lot of talent that was starting to get it. Early injuries to the offence and a revolving door at quarterback saw the team struggle out of the gate on offense. By the end of the year Travis Lulay had become the club’s starting quarterback and the undisputed leader of the offense. Nowhere was his growth more evident than in the Western Semi-final where he walked into Mosaic Stadium in Regina and nearly led the Lions to an upset over the Roughriders.
Lulay has all the tools to be a star in the CFL. Intelligence, toughness and the ability to pull the ball down and get yardage when nothing is there. He has the attention and respect of his team in the huddle and they are willing to follow him. That probably couldn’t be said of last season’s starter to begin the year. His arm strength may not be the best in the league but it’s more than adequate and he can pick teams apart by taking advantage what they give him. The beauty of Lulay is he is still learning and is eager to do so. He spent much of his off-season in BC and was a regular at the team’s practice facility,working on the offense, studying film and preparing himself to be the face of the offence. Look for very big things from Travis Lulay out of the gate.
Jarious Jackson returns as the backup and Mike Reilly will start camp as the number three, but the Lions have also brought in Corey Leonard, and Matt Johnson to compete. Knowing Buono’s knack for finding quality quarterbacks don’t be surprised to see the pecking order below Lulay change somewhat.
Protecting the leader:
Lulay will have better protection to start the season and a big reason for that will be the off-season acquisition of the 2010 offensive lineman of the year Ben Archibald, formerly of the Calgary Stampeders. The 6’4″ 322 pound Archibald will be protecting Lulay’s blind side at the left tackle spot, shifting last year’s promising rookie tackle Jovan Olafioye to the right side. The interior of the line will once again be anchored by the dependable and experienced Angus Reid. The Lions had asked Reid to assume a back up role to begin last season, looking to groom Dean Valli for the position but by the end of the year it as Reid returning to provide a calming influence on the line, showing the team he was still more than capable of being a starter. There will be key battles along the interior of the line in training camp. When the Lions drafted Justin Sorensen they likely saw him as a possible candidate for a tackle spot, but he is now listed on the depth chart as a backup centre to Angus Reid. Non-imports John Hameister-Ries and Jesse Newman are slotted in at left and right guard respectively. Dane Randolph and Nick Hennessy will slot in at backups at tackle while Andrew Jones and Dean Valli will backup as guards. Non counters Adam Baboulas (2010) and Yannick Sage (2011) will look to impress and possibly displace any of the previously mentioned backups along the interior of the line.
Running by committee:
Behind a steadier offensive line the Lions ground attack will likely be done by committee. Jamal Robertson returns as a duel threat from the backfield with Jerome Messam looking to improve on a solid rookie year. Injuries to Jamal Lee (knee) and Andrew Harris (torn pectoral muscle) will see both of those players get a late start. Rolly Lumbala returns at fullback and will again be a key contributor on special teams. With Yonus Davis no longer an option due to legal problems the Lions have stockpiled a collection of potential backs and have a poker in the fire on former Saskatchewan Roughrider and Hamilton Tiger Cat Kenton Keith who recently impressed at a free agent work out. Before that though, the Lions will see what they have with newcomers Tim Brown, Keegan Herring, Micheal Smith and non counting Tim Cronk. It’s likely that few names from this group will also audition for the returner role previously held by Davis. Smith is the cousin of former Lion Stefan Logan, and says he’s a little tougher and has more top end speed than his relative who was nicknamed “Joystick”. If that proves to be true, the Lions may have found a gem.
Replacing Manny and opportunities to shine:
The Lions didn’t have a lot of turnover this off-season, but one big loss could be felt at receiver with the loss of Emmanuel Arceneaux to the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. Paris Jackson will miss training camp on the training camp injured list as he is still recovering from a knee injury. Of the players returning from last season, look for Shawn Gore and Steven Black to have an impact coming out of camp. Gore and Black are slotted in as the team’s two starting slot backs heading into camp and both have the talent to hold onto those jobs. Gore never really got a chance to show his talents after arriving from the Green Bay Packers part way through the season, seeing most of his time on special teams. But Black became a dependable option for the team down the stretch and will look to entrench himself even more in the starting lineup.
Geroy Simon of course is the cagey and wise veteran who keeps on ticking. He needs 4 TDs to surpass Willie Fleming (87) for first on the Lions’ all-time list. He needs six TDs to reach 90 for his Lions career and 34 receptions to hit the 800 mark to add to his club record total. Simon is also closing in on Milt Stegall for the league’s all time receiving yards record, needing 1,432 yards to pass one of the CFL’s all-time greats and be in sole possession of the record.
Wide receiver is where things could get interesting. Second year player Nick Moore who didn’t see the field and 2010 draft pick Akeem Foster enter camp as tops on the depth chart, but the Lions have brought in some talented players to compete, hoping to find the next diamond in the rough to replace Arceneaux. The Lions have no fewer than 10 wider receivers to evaluate at camp, and early reports from rookie camp suggest that there are some good options to choose from. 2011 draft pick Marco Iannuzzi (Harvard) will look to impress. He likely won’t start right away but may also get a look as an option for kick returner. Other players vying for jobs will be Dobson Collins, Marc Ison, Kierrie Johnson, Calvin Simon, Jared Perry, William Osbourne and Brandon Thompkins.
Strength at Linebacker:
Despite the Lions troubles last year the defense was pretty solid last season and help the team in a lot of games while the offense struggled. The strength of the defence is definitely the linebacking core and the Lions are looking to make it the focal point of their defence this season. Last year’s rookie of the year Solomon Elimimian will be the centrepiece. It sounds as if the Lions will be employing a four linebacker set at least to start the year. If that is the case look for Adam Leonard, Anton McKenzie and nickleback Korey Banks join Elimimian. Joe Henderson returns for another year and will likely get rotated in and there is James Yurichuk who continues to improve and may play a bigger role this year. Joash Gesse, Adam Bighill and Tyrell Graham will also compete, but don’t excpect many surprises when camp breaks.
In search for the next Wake:
The Lions were extremely lucky to enjoy the talents of Cam Wake for two seasons. But since the monster that terrorized CFL quarterbacks left to star in the NFL, they have yet to find a replacement for the rush end position. Brent Johnson returns for another season and the Lions were happy with how fresh he was kept by rotating in and out during games. That’s how he’ll start the year with Aaron Hunt moving to defensive end and the newly acquired Eric Taylor starting at defensive tackle. Keron Williams will start on the other end and look to start the season healthy. Khalif Mitchell who arrived from the NFL last season with a bang but tailed off down the stretch could also see a lot of reps and should have a better handle on the CFL game. Newcomers Keyon Brown, James Bryant and draft pick Chris Hodgson will also look to impress.
Secondary remains strong:
One are where the Lions have always been solid over the last few years is the secondary and 2011 should find them solid again. Coach Mark Washington has a lot of talent to work with led by veterans Dante Marsh, Ryan Phillips, J.R. Larose and Davis Sanchez. Stanley Franks had a strong season in 2011 and he returns along with David Hyland who’s hard hitting take no prisoners style excited fans in the games he played in. The Lions would like to see special teams demon Jason Arakgi play a bigger role and he’ll enter camp as the backup to LaRose at safety. LaRose is coming off a another serious leg injury and Arakgi should be ready to emerge soon. Second year players Anthony Reddick and Hamid Mamoudi both return and newcomers Marquez Hall and Micheal Carter and Travis Williams look to get noticed and crack a solid group.
Looking for that special player:
The Lions probably didn’t count on having to replace Yonus Davis in 2011. Davis’ legal problems left them with no choice however and the search for a new returner at camp will be one to watch. Various receivers and backs will be given opportunities and Buono will hope he makes the right choice. Last season he handed the job to Robert Jordan (who was also implicated in the Davis situation) who was ineffective before finding lightning in a bottle with Davis. The return game won the Lions a few games last year and replacing that component will be important to the teams overall success.
The kicking game will once again fall in the hand of the capable Paul McCallum who seems to be defying his age. McCallum had won of his best season kicking field goals last season and can still punt accurately and efficiently. Buono chose to keep McCallum over the up and coming Sean Whyte who was dealt to Montreal at the draft. The Lions drafted Hugh O’Neil out of the University of Alberta who be McCallum’s backup and who many feel was the best kicker in the draft.
The Lions return coverage was solid last season and many of the same cast will be back. Arakgi, Yurichuk and Lumbala are lethal down field tacklers and they’ll be the leaders on cover teams.
Who will make a name for themselves?
Every year there is a player at camp who forces the coaches to make a difficult decision and this year will likely be no exception. If it is, the football staff haven’t done their job in finding players to improve the team. Wally Buono is also known for cutting a veteran or two every year. Last season he had a very young team and his off-season to date has shown he wants to maintain continuity in 2011 and let the tam grow. But that won’t mean the plans cant change if a player gives him no choice. The biggest surprise may come at receiver, or perhaps running back. Paris Jackson’s knee is a real concern and a strong showing in camp by another player like Shawn Gore may leave Buono with a tough decision. There are also options waiting in the wings with Kenton Keith and Kamau Petersen.
Other key notes:
Fan Fest will be held June 12th: Gates open at: 1:30 pm
Autograph session: 1:30 pm to 2:30 pm
Practice: 2:30 pm to 4:00 pm
The team will hold a night practice on Monday June 20th.
Fans heading to Kamloops should note that on June 5th, 8th, 10th and 19th, the club will have very limited on-field activities during the morning practice session.
So there you have it, hopefully we’ve shed some light on some of the battles to watch for at camp. If you’re heading up to Kamloops or live in the area enjoy the practices and the experience of CFL training camp! Let’s hope all the hard work during the next few weeks results in a great year for the Lions!
Highlights from the BC Lions season preview conference call that took place today:
- Team is 10% ahead of last year in season tickets sales thanks in part to excitement over 99th Grey Cup
- Dennis Skulsky says renovated BC Place will be one of the best facilities in North America.
- Wally Buono says that defensively, the Lions will go with a three-man front much of the upcoming season.
- Buono confirms that the Lions are has signed QB Matt Johnson from Bethune-Cookman University.
- Buono says the club may sign a 6th QB before camp…likely Cal’s Kevin Riley, who impressed at the recent Portland free-agent camp.
- The club will announce their new defensive line coach on June 1st.
- Buono on the improvement of the offensive line: ‘We have the best left tackle in the league (Archibald) & that should help us a lot’.
- Buono on QB Matt Johnson: ‘A lot like a young Damon Allen bc of athleticism…Danny Barrett speaks highly of him’.
- Buono not worried about replacing Davis /Arceneaux; cites Moore, Harris, Black, Gore, Iannuzzi as guys who can step up.
- Buono: ‘Elimimian reminds me of Alondra Johnson’.
- Buono confident that 2011 bc offensive line will be a lot stronger and the team will get more consistent play at quarterback.
- Buono says the team is still investigating non-import WR Kamau Peterson’s medical situation. ”If we weren’t thorough in that situation we wouldn’t be doing our job”.
In addition to the signing of Matt Johnson, the Lions also announced the signings of running back / kicj return candidates Michael Smith (Arkansas) and Tim Brown (Temple).
Thanks to Mark Masters of the National Post for his live tweets that made this blog possible, as well as the TEAM 1040.
Mark Masters on Twitter.
Team 1040 on Twitter.
General Manager and head coach Wally Buono has issued the following statement on behalf of the football club:
“We are aware of an incident that involves Yonus and we will continue to gather additional information. He remains part of our football club while the investigation process takes its course and we will not comment further at this time.”
No details are known on the nature of situation.
As CFL free agency approaches, rumours are starting to trickle out from the media and make their way to the internet. Perry Lefko of Sportsnet.ca recently blogged about how the CFL clubs are prepping for free agency and had this to say about the BC Lions:
“Wally Buono is expected to look at Gauthier and possibly Hefney, too. Rumours are abound about the Lions cutting some veterans, which is something Buono routinely does. Defensive back Dante Marsh may be dropped, especially if the Lions want to create cap space for Hefney. There’s also speculation they are open to trading Canadian receiver Paris Jackson, whose play tailed off last season, and Canadian rush end Brent Johnson, who became a rotation player last season after years of being a dominant starter.”
Some pretty shocking stuff there and one could easily come up with most of that speculation based on last season. Yes Jackson had an off year, starting the season with a knee problem. Yes Brent Johnson isn’t getting any younger, but he started the season in a rotation role then became an every down player again when injuries took over and was very effective, showing he still had the leadership and skill to contribute. But the suggestion the Lions would be prepared to drop veteran cornerback Dante Marsh in favour of signing pending free agent Jonathan Hefney out of Winnipeg is a little puzzling.
Lefko is correct about one thing, and that is that Wally Buono routinely releases veteran players each year. Part of keeping the team fresh and competitive has to involve turnover and the grooming of younger talent. But the team is entering a year when they are hosting the Grey Cup and too many changes may hamper the great momentum they started to gather as last season came to a close. Hefney is a talented player and is 6 years younger than Marsh, who is entering is 8th year in the CFL, all of them with the Lions. But would releasing Marsh be a good idea?
I don’t think so.
Marsh is coming off a pretty decent year in 2010. He recorded 63 tackles, 1 special teams tackle and had 4 interceptions. He played hurt with a shoulder injury and remained a leader in the secondary along with teammates Korey Banks, Ryan Phillips and Davis Sanchez all of whom started mentoring the promising David Hyland. A pretty solid unit that a lot of teams would kill to assemble.
Dante Marsh – Photo Credit: BCLions.com
Anyone who follows Marsh on twitter knows his commitment and work ethic are second to none. He has become a leader on the team and we here at BCLionsDen.ca know of his generosity in the community and how he represents the club with class.
Hefney has NFL aspirations and because of his age, would likely look to be testing them again in the near future. A recent offer from the Bombers had Hefney upset enough to express his frustration on Twitter:
“I’m sorry Winnipeg but that contract proposal was a legit slap in the face… Imma go 2 sleep on that and know I’ll never play there for that type of money”
Not exactly the character Buono likes in his locker room. Good fit on the field, maybe…good fit in the locker room, not so sure.
I’m not going to lie. I’ve got a lot of time and respect for Dante Marsh. I got to deal with him a little when he helped CFL Fans Fight Cancer by raffling off a painting of himself for the cause. That said, I also think he still has a lot to offer the BC Lions on the field as well. His experience and talents are still needed and Marsh still has more than a couple years of high level football to offer. If the Lions were to release him, he wouldn’t be out of work very long.
Marsh is playing out his option year and the Lions did pay him a bonus that was due February 1st. To date there have been no reports of an extension being offered, while the older, non-import Davis Sanchez was extended through 2013.
Of course as always the decision belongs to Buono and as the head coach and GM, he has to do what he thinks is right for the football team and these sorts of rumours often turn out to be just that, rumours.
Let’s hope that turns out to be the case here.
It’s official. After last week, the BC Lions are the worst team in the Canadian Football League. The club has lost seven straight games, and find themselves out of a playoff spot, one game shy of the midway point of the season. The same BC Lions that were getting used to hosting Western Finals, have now seen the other end of the spectrum, and it’s downright frustrating for the club and its fans.
But how did they get here? What has led to the team’s radical fall from the top of the CFL west? Fans and media like to concentrate on the now. It’s the coaches, it’s the schemes, it’s the personnel. While that may be true to a point, when you look at the bigger picture over the last three seasons, you can start to see how this all came to be.
The passing of Bob Ackles
It’s no secret that the BC Lions franchise turned around with the arrival of Bob Ackles. It’s also not wrong to suggest their downward spiral started with his passing.
Ackles was the face of the franchise and his football experience and contacts were of extreme value to the organization and in particular to Wally Buono. Ackles network of football people gave the club an endless resource to finding diamonds in the rough. Wally Buono could concentrate on the football team knowing that Ackles was looking after the operations of the club. He was a sounding board and confidante for Buono.
With Ackles gone, Buono has had to take on more of the day to day duties. Before Dennis Skulsky was brought in the Lions were without a President for a good amount if time. Skulsky is an excellent hire on the business side of the equation, but in no way does he replace what Ackles contributed to the football operations.
The departure of Obie
When Bob O’Billovich left the Lions, the loss was massive. O’Billovich has a great eye for talent and found some outstanding players for the Lions during his tenure here. Obie was aided by Richard Wade who also followed him to Hamilton. These two losses put a huge dent in the Lions scouting staff, and the product has reflected in the time they have been away. Roy Shivers was added to the fold, but has yet to produce the success that Obie and Wade did. It’s no coincidence that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have risen from the bottom of the league to a respectful team since the arrival of these two talented football minds.
The offensive line hasn’t been the same since the departure of Rob Murphy. Big number 56 brought an attitude and an aggressiveness to the unit that has yet to be restored. The departure of Jason Jimenez was a curious one, and the Lions have failed to find a replacement there as well. The tackles are a huge part of any successful line, and the rotating door at the position has been counter-productive to the unit. Justin Sorensen, Dane Randolph, Dumane Duckett, John Hameister-Ries, Daren Heerspink have all had shots, while Sherko Haji Rasouli hasn’t stayed healthy enough to be evaluated. The offence can be critiqued all you want, but instability in the trench has caused huge issues for the quarterbacks who are more often than not running for their lives seconds after the ball is snapped. And while Jacques Chapdelaine is taking a lot of heat for the inept offence this season, some responsibility should also lie at the feet of OL coach Dan Dorazio.
Dave Dickenson wasn’t optioned by the Lions because they couldn’t invest the dollars in him due to his concussion issues. He ended up signing in Calgary, went in for Burris, got another concussion and retired. He stayed on with the Stamps last season as a running back’s coach, and this year was promoted to offensive coordinator after George Cortez departed for the NFL. Change that timeline a little bit and Dickenson may have been added to the Lions coaching staff. He’s a great football mind, and he’s proving in Calgary his transition to the coaching ranks will be a rapid one. It’s rumoured that Buono may have considered offering Dickenson a job in some capacity, but he’s remained in Calgary, and the Stamps offense is thriving.
The big bad league to the south has not been kind to fans of the Lions of late. Cameron Wake was a given to fly south but the recent departures have cost the Lions some nice talent. Jamal Johnson, Ricky Foley, Stefan Logan, Martell Mallett, Ryan Grice-Mullen, Rolly Lumbala have all departed for the lure of the NFL and to date none of returned.
One just has to look at the last three CFL drafts to see that pick retention and development has not been very successful in the last three drafts.
2008: Justin Sorensen, Rolly Lumbala, Justin Shaw, Jason Arakgi, Mike McEachern, Brady Browne, Hubert Buydens
2009: Jamal Lee, James Yurichuk, Matt Carter, Matt Morencie, Tang Bacheyie, Jonathan Pierre-Etienne
2010: Danny Watkins, Shawn Gore, Joash Gesse, Hamid Mahmoudi, Nate Binder, Akeem Foster, Cauchy Muamba, Matthew Chapdelaine
Only the players in bold are in the organization, and only Arakgi, and Yurichuk have made solid contributions. Lee isn’t touching the ball much, Sorensen has yet to step up and assume a starters role, and the others are too raw to contribute. Browne, Carter, Bacheyie and Morencie were lost to rival teams. Others such as Watkins may never see a Lions uniform because of NFL ambitions and potential.
Too many leaders lost
The Lions were once a team of veterans but perhaps too many were discarded too quickly. Jason Clermont, Barrin Simpson, Otis Floyd, Lavar Glover, Jamal Johnson, Jerome Dennis are just a few of the names that were moved in favour of younger, cheaper options. Every team has to do it, but did the Lions cut too much? Angus Reid was on the radio recently questioning whether this team’s leadership is good enough, adding that those veteran’s remaining need to pull the young ones along more. He also stated that this club isn’t the closest he’s been apart of, but added it’s also not the most divided. There is usually a fine mix that makes a cohesive team and right now the mixture on the Leos appears to be a little muddled.
So what next?
Every successful organization has to rebuild at some point. Some like the Montreal Alouettes seem to be able to retool and keep rolling along, and while that is admirable it’s rare. The Lions will try and stop the bleeding and they’ll be working hard to save this season. Regardless it’s likely some major changes are coming at the end of the 2010 campaign. Perhaps Wally Buono moves upstairs to fill the “football” vacancy left by Ackles. Perhaps the coaching staff is reevaluated and revamped and perhaps the club makes some nice free agent signings, drafts better, or has a few existing players develop. Wally Buono hasn’t “lost it”. You don’t devote your life to a game and all of a sudden suck at your job.
Lions fans have been spoiled for a few years. Sure a couple of more Grey Cups would have been nice and one could argue the failure to achieve that was another disappointment. However, Wally has rebuilt this team once and Lions fans should have faith he can do it again, even if it’s in a different capacity. He deserves that chance.
When you look at the big picture, it’s easier to see why this team is rebuilding. As fans, we can only hope the construction goes quickly.
Here are the photos from the June 8th morning session of BC Lions training camp in Kamloops, BC. The morning live blog recap is here.