June 30, 2011

Mullin: Lions pay no heed to sophomore jinx

Jim Mullin

If there truly is such a thing as a sophomore jinx, the BC Lions aren’t paying heed.

The team is led by a second-year starting quarterback, 19 second-year players and even the second – and final – year in their temporary digs at Empire, which happens to be their second stadium on that site.

In no other facet of the game have the Lions underwent such a radical change in attitude, confidence and unity as on the offence. Most of that new found faith rests on the shoulders of starter Travis Lulay.

It’s in stark contrast to the divided feeling in the camp in Kamloops, B.C. last year when the newly humble character of Casey Printers was installed at number one. Printers fooled many – including this reporter – until his meltdown on the field and on the sidelines in a monumental meltdown in Winnipeg which ushered him onto the unemployment rolls and pushed Lulay into the starter’s role.

With the dressing room cancer extracted and sent into forced retirement, Lulay fished strong in 2010 with a 474-yard performance in the final week and led an inspired comeback to send the Western Semi-Final into overtime in Saskatchewan.

Lulay and the first unit have looked crisp in winning efforts in Calgary (24-0) and at home against Saskatchewan (34-6).

“The emphasis was picking up where we left off from the end of last season,” Lulay said of the up-tempo exhibition season.

One of the main reasons Lulay and fellow QBs Various Jackson, Mike Reilly and Corey Leonard could produce was with the rebuilt offensive line.

“Offensively, it starts up front and those big five guys have been playing well together and it’s been that way since the start of training camp,” Lulay said.

Free agent offensive tackle Ben Archibald moved closer to his hometown of Kennewick, WA when shifting from Calgary to BC. The Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman from last season anchors a stabilized line, which should buy some of the more inexperienced receivers time to get open.

Geroy Simon is the obvious headliner in the BC receiving corps, only 10 yards behind 2011 Hall of Famer Terry Vaughn for third on the CFL all-time reception list. Simon is the active career leader in yards receiving.

The make-or-break element of the offense will be the other pass catchers, especially after the departure of Emmanuel Arceneaux to the Minnesota Vikings.

Import Dobson Collins is the boundary side wide-out, whose only pro experience was camp and practice roster stints with San Francisco and Philadelphia.

Practice roster carry over import Nick Moore starts on the inside with the choice of two Canadians on the mend joining him. Paris Jackson and his repaired knee will start the season against the Alouettes Thursday, but former Eskimo Kamau Peterson and his healed Achilles is currently marked in as Jackson’s backup.

The field side wide-out is Shawn Gore, the Lions’ second pick in the 2010 Canadian Draft. Gore decided on taking a run at the Green Bay Packers and caught more passes in NFL exhibition (two) than in CFL regular season (none) in 2010. The Bishop’s grad displayed eye popping speed on special teams last year, but the jury is out on how productive he can be in his first full season.

Jamal Robertson looks to quietly become Lulay’s answer underneath when not running the ball.

On the defensive side of the ball, Korey Banks will continue to be at the centre of the action in the Lions defence in what’s being referred to as a nickel back. Although in Mike Benevides’ 30-defence Banks is actually a sixth defensive back, or fourth linebacker.

Reigning CFL Rookie of the Year Solomon Elimimian returns at inside linebacker and says things could get a whole lot better.

“Last year it was hard getting to learn the rules of Canadian football and the system, but we’ve developed some chemistry,” Elimimian said.

Non-import Jason Arakgi gets the start at safety but will likely rotate with David Hyland. When Arakgi comes out, 11-year vet Brent Johnson will come in at defensive end in a four man front.

The defence returns starters in 10 of 12 positions.

On special teams the Lions 2010 Most Outstanding Player nominee Paul McCallum returns for dual duty as punter and kicker in his 19th year. He’s the top active career scorer in the league, ranked seventh overall.

The Lions second round draft pick Hugh O’Neill from the University of Alberta is waiting in the wings.

An unexpected swerve dealt to the club was when returner Yonus Davis found himself on the wrong side of the law in the spring. The Lions are hoping they have found the answer in Temple grad and Indoor Football League standout Tim Brown. He’ll be assisted on kickoff returns by CJFL standout and second year offensive dual-threat Andrew Harris.