June 28, 2006

Returns only for the lonely

Lockett ready to make like an orange rocket

By Lowell Ullrich,
Vancouver Province

There was not a more fitting sight when the B.C. Lions had some time off the other day than Aaron Lockett working on his lateral movement on the practice field. All by himself.

As a returner, it is Lockett’s contention there is not a lonelier position on the field. Great things are not always expected, but you dare not mess up. It’s catch the ball or else. And never look back, because there’s no teammate behind you to help.

It’s a mindset Lockett has developed since joining the CFL team and one that was tested further this year. Lockett strained a quad muscle the first week of training camp, then aggravated the injury in a manner that usually gains the immediate attention of a group of athletes looking for anything to needle a teammate. He sneezed.

That left Lockett alone on the sidelines through the first two games, but that changes when the Lions play host to the Toronto Argonauts on Friday at B.C. Place Stadium.

He’ll take the roster spot of Tony Simmons and instantly will re-establish the return threat, which had become so noticeably missing that it was indirectly responsible for Simmons’ injury.

Now Lockett will only be lonely while on the field.

“You’re out there all by yourself and you press because it’s only you back there,” he explained Tuesday.

“In this league, making five or 10 yards [on a punt return] just doesn’t cut it. If you can get the ball back to the 45 or 50-yard line it makes a huge difference. Linemen hate starting [drives] on the 30-yard line every time.”

Lockett’s special-teams mates weren’t a total disaster in two games against Saskatchewan, but still only returned one punt over 10 yards in as many kicks. The premise was simple: Catch the ball. Fall forward. Don’t mess up.

Lockett had 18 of that length or more in 17 games last year, one large reason why he led the CFL with 2,057 return yards and constantly left quarterback Dave Dickenson needing less real estate to claim to get to the endzone.

Lockett used to chafe quietly upon joining the Lions in 2004 over the fact he never got to line up offensively in a six-receiver formation, then realized there are advantages to returning that not even Geroy Simon can claim.

“You’re going to touch the ball [as a returner] 130 times a year,” Lockett said.

Simmons touched the ball once too often Sunday when he was injured returning a kickoff and setting up a touchdown. Coach Wally Buono admitted he gambled by using Simmons to replace Lockett on kickoffs, hoping to minimize the risk of injury by dividing the return chores between the likes of T.J. Acree, Dante Marsh and Antonio Warren. He lost.

“They’re going to get hurt back there. It’s just a matter of time,” Buono said.

So it’s Lockett’s turn now, hoping to at least equal the output of a Toronto return unit that unquestionably has had no rivals for years and bolstered further by the free-agent signing of Keith Stokes in the offseason.