May 20, 2018

What does Olafioye’s move mean for Als, Lions?

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

VANCOUVER — It’s been a busy weekend across the CFL, with Johnny Manziel finally touchdown down in Hamilton and Adam Bighill signing with the Bombers after a year south of the border.

Not lost in the fray is Jovan Olafioye, the six-time CFL All-Star and veteran tackle whose release from the Montreal Alouettes late on the eve of training camp came as a surprise.

Not surprisingly, however, Olafioye took no time at all to find a new team, rekindling an old flame between himself and the BC Lions.

Why is this move significant, and what does it mean for the two teams affected heading into training camp on Sunday?

RELATED
» Primer: A team-by-team look at training camp
» Bio: New Lions tackle Jovan Olafioye
» Olafioye released; quickly joins Lions

Jovan Olafioye was held to 12 games in his first year with the Alouettes (Peter McCabe/CFL.ca)

There’s a reason Olafioye was snapped up as soon as he became available. If it wasn’t the Lions, the Eskimos and Riders may have had an interest, with both teams entertaining open competition at on tackle spot going into training camp.

A league all-star in six of his first seven seasons in the CFL, Olafioye is still a very good, reliable tackle in the CFL. His American passport may have deemed his contract too expensive for the Alouettes to swallow, but we’ve learned in this league that while American tackles are a dime a dozen, American tackles that can stay on the field and play at a high level are not.

A back injury cost Olafioye six games in his first season in Montreal after the Alouettes swung a deal to acquire him in the off-season, but the 30-year-old cannot be blamed for the team’s struggles during a forgettable three-win season. Problems for the Als’ O-line began when Olafioye and national guard Phillip Blake were sidelined. When healthy, the Alouettes didn’t allow a single sack through the first three games of the 2017 season.

On the other hand, in Vancouver, the Lions struggled in their first year without Olafioye. The veteran tackle didn’t miss a game through his first seven years in the league, and his exit left a void that couldn’t be filled. The Lions’ offensive line allowed the most sacks in the CFL without him, playing a significant role in the team missing the playoffs for the first time in two decades.

For the team’s new general manager Ed Hervey, adding the services of Olafioye this close to training camp is a no-lose situation. The Lions already signed one of the best tackles in the CFL in Joel Figueroa this off-season, who figures to give Jonathon Jennings more time in the pocket and also open more running lanes for whoever ends up taking the ball in BC.

Jonathon Jennings could benefit from some added time in the pocket this season (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

With the Lions primed to start two American tackles, having Olafioye on the right side opposite Figueroa — if he can settle into that spot and take the job — may help BC go from having one of the worst offensive lines in the CFL to one of the best. Much has been made about the play of the interior of the Lions’ offensive line, but that was only exposed after Olafioye left in 2017. And in the CFL, strong play from the tackles can sometimes hide vulnerabilities inside.

While Olafioye gives the Lions more options, not all is lost in Montreal. The Als must believe that Olafioye is losing a step, and that the risk associated with an aging American coming off an injury season isn’t justified. Kavis Reed added some muscle to the middle of his O-line this off-season, adding Ryan Bomben in a savvy trade with the Ticats and drafting pro-ready Trey Rutherford with the second overall pick.

With two starting American tackles still in the team’s plans, now it’s a matter of who will line up on the outside of the offensive line. Veteran Xavier Fulton is considered a lock to man one of the openings, while Anthony Morris and Cory Tucker are the other international linemen in camp for the Als. The Als may have already made plans for reinforcements at the position, but so far there are only three internationals on the roster at the position.

Either way, Olafioye’s move from Montreal to BC has created new storylines going into camp. Ed Hervey has accumulated an impressive amount of depth on the O-line, while the Als have a void to fill at tackle.

Keep an eye on how things shake out.