- Free Agency
BC Lions defensive back TJ Lee was training for a 10k run this off-season, but due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak, those plans had to be put on hold.
However, with a baby on the way and he and his wife moving into a new house in Blaine, Washington, there’s more than enough to keep the 30-year-old occupied.
“(My wife) wants me to paint, so painting I will do,” Lee told BCLions.com’s Matt Baker. “Obviously, I’m not a professional painter by any means. So it’s taking a little longer, but I’ve got a groove going. (I’ve) got one room painted down and onto the next.”
Lee re-signed with the Lions this off-season and will stick with the organization through the 2021 campaign. He’ll be one of the key pieces in turning around the fortunes of a Leos squad that didn’t have much go in their favour this past season.
“So far, I like the group we got coming in and the defensive back end,” Lee said. “Pretty soon I’m gonna get a group chat going on and we’re gonna try to build on that chemistry and stay close.”
The veteran has never known another home during his CFL career. He’s spent all six of his CFL campaigns to date in Orange and Black.
After earning West Division and CFL All-Star honours in 2018, Lee had another productive year in 2019. While occupying one of the halfback spot in the secondary, he finished the year with 66 tackles, six special teams tackles, four interceptions and a forced fumble while appearing in all 18 games.
Unfortunately, the team started the season 1-10 and despite gaining some ground on the crossover playoff position out of the West, they couldn’t recover, missing the postseason in the closing weeks.
Despite falling short of expectations in 2019, this upcoming season brings new optimism for both Lee and the Lions. New head coach Rick Campbell joins the team following a tenure with Ottawa that saw him help lead the REDBLACKS to three Grey Cup appearances and two championships in six campaigns.
General manager Ed Hervey made sure the Leos were one of the more active squads once free agency opened on Feb. 11. While the team did lose Branden Dozier and Crezdon Butler to Calgary and Toronto, respectively — while Chris Edwards headed to the NFL — BC did get some secondary help in the open market.
Their biggest move in the defensive backfield was undoubtedly re-upping Garry Peters once the free agency window opened. They also added Derek Jones and former Eskimos starter Kenny Ladler to help with depth.
Ryan Phillips will be returning to the team as the defensive backs coach, something that Lee, in particular, is excited for.
“He’s very youthful you know he’s able to reach to us in a certain way and talk to us in a certain way that we understand things, you know, and kind of be lighter, in terms of like getting the message over,” Lee said. “Some people interpret the message in different ways. But I mean I was able to get up there and joke around with them and see if I can get any defensive back drills that he plans on putting us through, so I can be smoother than other guys.”
Micah Johnson was the key signing on the defensive side of the ball for the Lions. He’ll be joined by JR Tavai, Ryan Brown and Cameron Walker in the trenches. Revamping the defensive line was extremely important for a BC defence that got to the quarterback just 28 times in 2019 — tied for the second-worst total in the league, and Lee and the other defensive backs will be hoping that the added pressure on pivots will help them ball hawk more efficiently.
Once training camp and pre-season get underway, all eyes will be on righting the ship in the Lions’ locker room. With the pieces they have at the moment, it’s not hard to see them contending for a playoff spot in 2020.