O’Leary: Lions hoping Lemon can ignite pass rush

The BC Lions started a short week with a jam-packed Day 1 on Monday.

Before the team had set foot on the field, it had re-acquired Shawn Lemon in an early-morning trade with the Toronto Argonauts. The Lions sent DT Davon Coleman and a conditional eighth-round pick in the 2020 draft to Toronto.

When the team took to the field at Ron Joyce Stadium on the McMaster University campus, its most important player was there, too. Mike Reilly was a full participant in practice, taking first-team reps with the Lions’ offence despite what looked like a painful ankle injury he took in Saturday’s heartbreaking loss to Hamilton.

Reilly hurt the ankle twice, first when he was chasing down a high snap with just over seven minutes left in the game. As he corralled the ball, he turned and rolled his ankle. He came out of the game, had the ankle looked at and taped by trainers, threw on the sidelines and hobbled back into play.

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He was sacked on the ensuing drive and at the bottom of the pile, further aggravated the ankle. That led to more limping, more tape and Reilly going back out for what would be his team’s final offensive drive. His pass was tipped and intercepted, sealing the Ticats’ comeback from 12-points down.

Reilly promised after the game that he’d be on the field Monday practising.

“Mike’s a trooper,” Lions head coach DeVone Claybrooks said.

“(Reilly) worked hard to rehab and he’s moving around. I saw him barely get out of bed (Monday morning) and I was like, ‘Oh my god.’ Then like three hours later, he’s like, ‘I’m ready, coach.'”

Reilly could have taken a day off, especially given that this is a short week. The Lions will travel from Hamilton on Wednesday morning ahead of their game on Thursday against the Bombers. Instead, he used the day to loosen up his ankle on the field and to try to pull his team out of its four-game losing streak.

“In terms of my leadership, I just try to set a good example for the guys and I’m capable of being out here and working, so why wouldn’t I be? I would expect the same from every single one of my teammates,” he said.

“If I should expect that from them, I better be able to hold on to my end of the bargain too. This is obviously a stretch for us where we haven’t done well in the first two months of the season. We’re behind the eight ball and we can’t afford any more slippage.

“Every day that you get the opportunity to come out here and work and put in time to try to work towards that goal of getting a win. I need to be out here just as bad as anybody else.”

Lemon, who was dealt by Toronto to BC last year as well, went out west and had 10 sacks in 13 games. He found out about the trade Monday morning and immediately drove down the QEW to meet with his new teammates. A trade had been rumoured for the veteran defensive end for the last few weeks, so he wasn’t caught off guard with the news.

“Nothing seems to catch me by surprise in this league,” he said.

Lemon’s career has been full of moves — he’s been on the roster of seven of the nine teams in the league, including two stops in each of BC, Toronto and Saskatchewan — but also has been hugely successful. The 30-year-old has won two Grey Cups, has 62 career sacks, was an East all-star in 2016 and the 19 forced fumbles in his career make him a proven disruptor to quarterbacks across the league.

“I’ve had a crazier career than anybody’s had in the CFL,” he continued. “I just look at it as I’m thankful to always be wanted. I’m never going to go without work because of the type of work and resume that I give myself.”

Claybrooks was Lemon’s d-line coach in Calgary in 2013. He played for Lions defensive coordinator Rich Stubler in Toronto in 2017. And he reunites with an old friend on the BC d-line in Odell Willis.

“(The trade) will help the pass-rushing, that’s our hope,” Lions GM Ed Hervey said. “Shawn is one of the top pass rushers in this league and has been for quite some time.

“That’s an area that’s been a concern of ours for the better part of the season. We hope that he can ignite a pass rush that will put some pressure on quarterbacks and allow our defence to get off the field. Hopefully, he can come in and hit the ground running and be very productive for us.”