May 24, 2010

Major lineup changes for 2010 Lions

Lowell Ullrich
The Province

VANCOUVER — You could call it the Lions’ attempt to produce a re-enactment of the movie Trading Places.

The roster blood-letting was as thorough as it was necessary after the CFL team wrapped up its 8-10 season last year.

But with his training camp roster all but complete, GM/coach Wally Buono on Wednesday confirmed the list of players who are switching positions this year is rapidly approaching the lineup of those who have departed.

Already committed to a replacement for retired safety and new assistant Barron Miles, the Lions will make veteran defensive back Ryan Phillips their short-side starter in the secondary, switching spots with sophomore Darren Toney to pair with cornerback Dante Marsh.

But a larger makeover will commence on the offensive line when veterans open camp on June 6 in Kamloops. It’s the biggest restructuring since the arrival of offensive line coach Dan Dorazio, to say nothing of risky.

All five starters would in effect be newcomers with varying degrees of experience.

The club is projecting Sherko Haji-Rasouli to move one spot and take over from ousted right tackle Jason Jimenez. Import Daren Heerspink will play right guard.

Another import would replace Heerspink at left tackle, while Dean Valli will take over from Angus Reid at centre, flanked at left guard by Jon Hameister-Reis, who has yet to play a CFL regular-season game.

Normally prone to releasing a player if dissatisfied, Buono spent much of the offseason contemplating whether some players might simply be better off with a change on the field.

“It’s not always that easy to just say, ‘We’re going to bring in better players,'” he said. “Our most productive players, and supposedly our best players, should be in positions where they can have more of an impact.”

None might benefit more from switching to that side of the secondary which is often busier than Phillips, who had 11 interceptions in 2007 as a wide-side halfback.

Not everyone learned of the moves at the same time.

Defensive end Brent Johnson was told about his new role before the club signed free-agent replacement Keron Williams three months ago. Reid learned about the decision to start Valli late last week.

A fracture which resulted in the insertion of two screws in Reid’s left foot and marked the end of a 143-game streak of starts over eight seasons is among the reasons.

The move to reshape the entire line, which was second only to Winnipeg in sacks allowed the last three seasons, is rooted in its chronic inability to produce consistently on short-down yardage situations.

“We were not very good up front last year, and that’s everybody. I’m going to guarantee you we’re going to be better on the line of scrimmage,” Buono said.

Name tags would be useful at camp as the club introduces 14 starters to new positions even before even a rookie has the chance to dazzle.

Still, Buono’s measures could have been yet more drastic.

“Be thankful that I still think you can do your job,” he said in a blanket nod to his veterans.

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