- Free Agency
VANCOUVER — What happens when three quarterbacks put their heads together? The BC Lions are about to find out.
Three different eras of CFL quarterbacks have already started planning and rebuilding what’ll be a different-looking Lions offence in 2016, one led by a sturdy, reliable QB duo but without star dual-threat running back Andrew Harris.
It’s a four-month head start on what might be a make or break year for Head Coach/GM Wally Buono and the Black and Orange.
“That’s what we do, we’re kind of football nerds so we love talking X’s and O’s,” said Lulay, who joined Jennings at the podium for his first media availability since agreeing to re-sign on the eve of CFL free agency.
“Obviously [Offensive Coordinator Khari Jones] and staff are putting together a playbook because they wanted to get a little bit of our input and talk about what we did well, what we can improve on – some of those things from last year from the players’ perspective,” he continued.
“It’s important to have that back and forth. This is the beginning of sitting down and being the group we want to be for this season.”
WATCH: Lulay, Jennings off to a head start
Jones, a former CFL pivot and 2001 Most Outstanding Player with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, will be the one calling the shots as he enters his second stint as an offensive coordinator. He’ll work closely with another MOP-winner in Travis Lulay (2011) and perhaps a future winner in the young and electric Jennings.
Both are excited to work with Jones, who started his 11-year CFL career with the Lions back in 1997 before becoming a star with the Bombers at the turn of the millennium.
“I’m excited about it,” said Lulay, now a heading into his eighth CFL season. “He has a wealth of playing experience and that wasn’t a long time ago. When we say something, he knows what we’re saying because he stood in our shoes years ago.”
“Whether it was good or bad or otherwise, he’s lived it – he’s lived all the ups and downs of playing the position,” he added. “So he’s very receptive, and he’s very open to hearing how we’re feeling about what we’re doing.
“As a player that’s awesome to be able to have that dynamic where you can trust a guy enough to speak openly to him and be excited about potential changes and things like that.”
After injury concerns sparked uncertainty the last two off-seasons, 2016 brought a different kind of uncertainty for Lulay. Now 32, an injury first sidelined Lulay last season but it was competition that kept him off the field, as Jennings took the league by storm as a 23-year-old gunslinger.
But while Jennings is seen as the future in BC, he’ll have to win the job first as he and Lulay compete for the chance to start on June 25, when the Lions open their season at home against Calgary.
“He’ll push me and I think I’ll push him as well,” said Jennings. “That competition and that striving to be great for both of us helps us out and it’s really good for the team.”
Jennings threw for 2,004 yards and 15 touchdowns in 12 games last season and is considered part of the fast-emerging next generation of quarterbacks, the one behind the likes of Zach Collaros and Mike Reilly that includes James Franklin and Rakeem Cato. All eyes will be on him this season as he looks to prove his debut season was no fluke, but don’t expect either more pressure or a quarterback competition to faze him.
For Jennings, preparation leads to confidence and that’s key.
“I’m confident about that because of the way I prepare,” said Jennings. “If I didn’t prepare myself the way I do and train myself the way I’m supposed to, maybe I wouldn’t have that same confidence.
“But I’m wailing to put in the work, willing to learn new things and try to get a better understanding so that I come into this season better than I was last year.”
It feels like so long ago, but a year ago at this time Jennings was a rookie few had ever heard of – one of a handful of unknowns participating at Lions’ mini-camp for a spot on the roster behind Lulay. Now Jennings and Lulay, whoever the starter is, give the Lions stability there for the foreseeable future.
It’s really a dynamic duo at football’s most important position.
“It’s pretty crazy,” said Jennings. “I was sitting at the dinner table with my family and talking about how not too long ago I was just hoping to make the team.
“To the point where I’m playing now – it’s crazy, it’s a whirlwind. But it’s been a blessing, I’ve worked my tail off and it’s an exciting experience.”