In the puzzle that is the BC Lions this season, Travis Lulay considers himself just another piece.
“You can’t do anything by yourself,” Lulay said.
The Lions are hoping the return of their starting quarterback from off-season shoulder surgery is the final piece that brings their CFL playoff picture into focus.
“He is one of those guys who is a clutch player and makes big plays for us,” said running back Andrew Harris. “Travis is our guy. We’re excited to have him back.”
Lulay will get his first start of the season Friday night when the Lions play their first game against the Ottawa REDBLACKS. After seeing some brief action over the last few weeks Lulay believes he’s ready to take over the helm and steer the Lions through some choppy seas.
“I feel good about what I can physically do at this point,” the 31-year-old said after practice on a cool, rainy day. “I’ve made all the throws I need to make at practise the last couple of weeks. That gives me the confidence to go into a game and feel good about where I’m at.”
Lulay has always taken a child’s excitement onto the field. After nine long months of recovery, this week’s game will be like Christmas morning. The adult in him knows he will have to control his emotions.
“I have to rein the excitement level in,” he said. “I feel like a little kid playing football for the first time.”
“Sometimes there is that emotional part you almost have to remove yourself from playing quarterback. It’s a position that requires some thinking and a pretty level-headed approach.”
Lulay’s last start was in BC’s Western Semi-Final loss to Saskatchewan. He underwent surgery in November to strengthen ligaments in his right throwing shoulder and since then needed patience and perseverance while rehabbing.
“I knew it was going to be a process,” said the league’s most outstanding player in 2011. “I didn’t know how the process was going to play out. My shoulder finally caught up.
“I know there is still work ahead of me as far as getting in the flow.”
Head coach Mike Benevides said Lulay wouldn’t be playing if he couldn’t perform all the tasks expected of a quarterback.
“Travis looks as good as I’ve seen him in a long, long time,” said Benevides. “He’s got everything at his disposal in terms of the playbook.”
“He’s making all the throws. He’s doing everything he needs to with his feet. He’s eyes and his mechanics are outstanding.”
Lulay has been eased back into action.
He had three series in the Lions’ win over Toronto Aug. 17 then played the last five minutes in BC’s home loss to Saskatchewan Aug. 24. In those games he completed four of eight passes for 27 yards. Maybe more importantly, Lulay didn’t show any ill affects after taking some hits on the shoulder.
Benevides expects some rust as Lulay continues to adapt to game speed.
“It’s clear he hasn’t played a ton of football,” said Benevides. “There are going to be timing things that occur, there is going to be vision and certain things that happen at speed.
“I think he’s well prepared. He’s a cerebral guy and understands what needs to be done.”
Lulay suffered a partial dislocation of his shoulder in a Sept. 15 win over Montreal. He missed the final seven weeks of the season but completed 20 of 26 passes for 211 yards in the playoff loss to Saskatchewan.
Lulay finished 2013 completing 224 of 347 passes for 2,841 yards, 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
It’s not that the Lions have played badly this season with Kevin Glenn serving as quarterback. The offence has just been inconsistent, often struggling to finish drives. There also has been a revolving door at left tackle due to injury.
Lulay is a more mobile quarterback than Glenn. Defences have to respect he has the ability to pull the ball down and run.
Lulay also has more history with receivers like Emmanuel Arceneaux, Courtney Taylor, Shawn Gore and even Harris.
“He’s got a little bit of a background with some of the receivers in timing,” said Benevides. “There is some unspoken body language they have.”
Arceneaux, who is fourth in the league with 481 yards and five touchdowns on 29 catches, said Lulay brings confidence.
“He brings what every quarterback is supposed to bring, leadership,” he said. “They are the generals out there and it’s their job to command the game. They should control the game.”
Halfway through the season the Lions are last in the West. They are four points out of third spot and trail the Winnipeg Blue Bombers by two points in the race for the cross-over playoff spot.
The Lions can’t take any of the East teams lightly, but their playoff fate will probably be decided in their five games against West teams.
A healthy Lulay improves the Lions chances.
“The biggest thing is knowing I’m not doing anything by myself,” he said. “You step back and realize you are just a piece of the puzzle.”
“I know things are going to happen. Adversity always happens in the course of a game. I know it’s not going to be perfect . . . but if I remain confident we will be able to get it done.”