For those players hoping to earn a role with the B.C. Lions this season, Friday’s CFL exhibition game against the Calgary Stampeders will be their last audition. Several of the understudies will perform with the proven stars to see if they demonstrate the talent needed for the big stage.
Head coach Mike Benevides used a mainly rookie production in last week’s 14-11 win over the Edmonton Eskimos. This week Benevides plans to play many of his veterans for at least two-and-a-half quarters at BC Place Stadium. He also wants to sprinkle some of the promising newcomers into the lineup to watch how they fit in with the starters.
Benevides’ philosophy is, it’s well and good to follow the script during practices, but the true test comes when you have to hit the mark under the bright lights with the rest of the cast.
“I think it’s important,” said Benevides. “Their level of play should come up to the guy that is playing next to them.
“You have to look for chemistry. Can they handle instructions, do they understand game situations? You want to see how they interact with the next guy. We will do that with a couple of guys to see how they look with the starting unit.”
Lions staying patient with Lulay
“We knew it was going to take some time,” said Benevides. “He’s getting better all the time. I’m not concerned. It’s one of those things you have to be patient.”
– Lions head coach Mike Benevides
The Lions have around 70 players in camp. They must be down to a final roster of 46 players and another 10 on the practice squad by Saturday. That means the coaching staff will be keeping a close eye on the competition for jobs at several positions.
In the defensive secondary Ronnie Yell, a five-foot-10, 185-pound important from San Jose State is making a strong bid to make the team, as is Alex Bazzie, a six-foot-one, 228-pound defensive tackle from Marshall. With veteran receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux out with a broken hand Brian Burnham from Tulsa and Stephen Adekolu from Brampton, Ont., will be given another look.
One of the biggest areas for concern for the Lions is rebuilding the left side of the offensive line following the retirements of tackle Ben Archibald and guard Patrick Kabongo.
So far T-Dre Player, B.C.’s first selection in this year’s CFL draft, and J. T. Dill, a 316-pound import international from Rutgers, are in the mix for the left guard position. Andre Ramsey, Nyere Aumaitre and Cam Thorn are battling for the guard spot.
“We have to find two men that give us a chance to win a championship,” said Benevides.
“There is really good competition in camp for those positions. We will make sure to find the right one to fill those two holes.”
Still on the mend is right guard Kirby Fabien who looked outstanding as a rookie last year but saw his season end July 30 in Toronto. Fabien suffered a catastrophic knee injury and required reconstruction surgery. He remains a question mark for the Lions’ season-opener June 28 against Edmonton.
“He’s getting better every day,” said Benevides. “Now that we are out of the two-a-day phase he’s able to participate.”
One player who won’t play Friday is Travis Lulay. The Lions’ quarterback will dress and be on the sidelines but only as a spectator.
Lulay is still recovering from surgery last November to tighten the ligaments in his right shoulder which was partially dislocated in a Sept. 15 game against Montreal. He didn’t play last week and has taken limited reps during B.C.’s training camp in Kamloops, B.C.
“We knew it was going to take some time,” said Benevides. “He’s getting better all the time.
“I’m not concerned. It’s one of those things you have to be patient.”
Benevides isn’t sure Lulay will be ready to start the season.
“We’re still some time away from that,” he said. “I don’t know.
“I don’t have expectations of him being there. We’ll see exactly where he is. I don’t know yet. It’s too early to tell.”
The Lions added depth to their quarterback position by acquiring veteran Kevin Glenn from Ottawa. The coaching staff has also been impressed by the play of John Beck, a six-year NFL veteran, and Travis Partridge, a 23-year-old rookie who spent two weeks with the Minnesota Vikings last month.
Benevides likes dressing his veterans for the final exhibition game to get them prepared for the season.
“I like taking our starting unit into the locker room at half time and letting them play in the third quarter, just so they get used to the simulation of having to play that second half,” he said.
“Physically and mentally you have to be able to turn it back on. It’s a good process to go through.”
For players on the bubble, especially rookies, the final exhibition game can be their ticket into the CFL or the last act in their football career.
“Training camp practices tell you a lot about a player, but the first pre-season game you see if they are what you think they are, or if someone surprises your or someone disappoints you,” said Benevides.
“Now they are still here, but there are not as many jobs left. You are really looking for information in the game to see who is the guy you want.”