EDMONTON — The BC Lions and Edmonton Eskimos launch Week 2 of pre-season play on Friday night, giving fans at Commonwealth Stadium their first glimpse at a new-look squad dawning the Green and Gold.
For now though it’ll only be a quick glimpse, as first-year head coach Chris Jones and his staff will have their hands full deciding who will line up where on June 28th when these teams meet again in the season opener.
“We’re gonna play just about everybody,” Jones told Esks.com.
Friday night’s starting lineup should at least slightly resemble the one that takes the field two weeks from now at B.C. Place, with the likes of Mike Reilly, Fred Stamps, Hugh Charles, and J.C. Sherritt leading the charge.
Those were the household names last season and should be again this year. Many of the faces around them, however, have changed.
Last year started out hopeful but quickly turned, as growing pains inevitably set in for a team with a young core and a quarterback who came into training camp as the starter for the first time. Since then General Manager Ed Hervey cleaned house by bringing in a new coaching staff led by Jones, a proven defensive guru.
The result, Esks fans hope, is a team that can pile up the points on offence while giving opposing quarterbacks nightmares on defence. Friday night provides an opportunity to begin building that identity – despite the fact that it’s pre-season.
“We’re trying to figure out exactly what we do well, and then go out and execute in a game-time situation,” Jones told the team’s official website. “It’s not like we’re holding anything back, we’ve got to find out who we are.”
The biggest questions lie on the defensive side of the ball, where Jones brings a shift in ideology similar to the one that helped the Toronto Argonauts win the 100th Grey Cup Championship in his first season as their defensive coordinator.
It’s a system he describes as simple in nature, but requires many moving parts. Linebackers will drop into the secondary and cover, while other times defensive backs will move up and play linebacker. Defensive ends must also be athletic enough to play all over the field. As a result, even though the majority of last year’s starters are back, many of their responsibilities will be different.
On the offensive side of the ball, continuity is the name of the game. Reilly’s first season with Edmonton was a good one and if he can continue his development as one of the most exciting young quarterbacks in football, the Esks’ offence could be one of the CFL’s best.
That won’t be on full display on Friday though, as Jones hopes to see all five quarterbacks in the game, including backup quarterback Matt Nichols after missing all of last season with a knee injury. Other quarterbacks vying for a roster spot include Jonathan Crompton, Pat White, and Jacory Harris.
Similarly third-year head coach Mike Benevides and the BC Lions still have plenty to figure out as well, as Friday marks the start of a long journey they hope ends with becoming the fourth straight team to win the Grey Cup on home turf.
The majority of the team’s core that made it so successful over the past few seasons remains intact, aside from the subtraction of receiver Nick Moore (who signed with Winnipeg as a free agent) and the return of defensive lineman Khalif Mitchell.
The biggest change of all will be on the sidelines, where Offensive Coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine and Defensive Coordinator Rich Stubler are replaced by Khari Jones and Mark Washington respectively, both former players.
Yet the biggest off-season story and one that continues throughout training camp is the health of former Most Outstanding Player and star quarterback Travis Lulay, who remains on the mend after undergoing shoulder surgery last November.
Lulay has already been ruled out of Friday’s game, and some doubt has been cast over whether he’ll be ready for the regular season opener. Benevides however said there’s no reason to panic.
“We knew he was going to take all of training camp,” the former defensive coordinator told BCLions.com. “It’s not something that I’m going to rush and there’s no exact timeline, but the one thing I know is he’s working when he can and he’ll continue to progress.”
“Someone’s gotta step up in this game, next man up but obviously that’s the hope – that he can face Edmonton in our stands [in the home opener].”
Next up on Friday night is Kevin Glenn, who took a long, winding path this off-season to eventually become the Lions’ backup quarterback. Glenn was first selected by the Ottawa REDBLACKS in the expansion draft and expected to be the team’s inaugural starting quarterback.
The REDBLACKS caught everyone off guard not long after by signing future Hall of Fame quarterback Henry Burris, eventually leading Glenn to the Lions – a huge gain for a team in serious need of a backup plan at football’s most important position.
The 35-year-old has been in this position many times before and has proven capable of shouldering the load under any circumstance. In the meantime, he’s just looking forward to finally getting back out on the field.
“I think it’ll be exciting,” said Glenn. “Just being in training camp and being in the league for so long, the excitement that you’re gonna get once the game starts is no different because you’re gonna be on the field with different guys.”
“But being in training camp for 12 days, it feels like I’ve known these guys longer than that.”
Also getting time under centre will be former NFL quarterback John Beck and youngster Travis Partridge, while most of the team’s projected regular season starters elsewhere will also sit as Benevides hopes to get a good look at some of his unproven talent.
Kickoff is at 9:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or on ESPN3 in the United States.