February 22, 2023

Continuity remains top priority for Lions, Campbell

Christian Bender/CFL.ca

When it comes to the CFL free agent derby, 2023 wasn’t quite the flurry of activity compared to previous years. And with continuity being a major component of what these Lions are trying to build, that was music to the ears of Rick Campbell.

With plenty of key veterans such as Sukh Chungh, Bo Lokombo, T.J. Lee, Garry Peters re-upping ahead of the market opening and other important pieces in Vernon Adams Jr. and Dominique Rhymes signing one-year extensions through 2024, there is a solid foundation of veterans on both sides of the ball here for at least another two seasons in what the club will surely view as prime Grey Cup window. Campbell joined the Sekeres and Price podcast on Monday to break it all down following a few days of key activity.

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» Lions add to o-line with Michael Couture

James Butler was one of the pieces of the 2022 BC Lions team that will not return in 2023, signing with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during free agency (BCLions.com)

“It’s an exciting week. A lot of work goes into it, getting ready for it, and it’s one of the fun events of the CFL off-season,” explained the head coach on free agency.

“Just seeing all the player movement and obviously you’re dealing with some influential players, a lot of quarterbacks, all that stuff. If you’re a CFL fan, it’s a week you want to pay attention to.”

From Campbell and the Lions’ perspective, it was somewhat refreshing to know there was a high volume of players already retained and the goal of improving was based on finding some depth at more of the important positions. Even if veteran starters James Butler and Joel Figueroa weren’t able to be kept. Both veterans officially signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Wednesday of last week.

“Our list is much longer of the guys we kept than the guys we didn’t. We would have kept everybody if we could,” said Campbell.

“There are some bigger names like Fig, James Butler, and that crew that are really good football players. They got paid a lot of money to go play somewhere else. I never fault players for wanting to earn money. A player’s shelf life is only so long and they’re trying to make as much money as they can at it while they’re still playing. In a salary cap world, it was just literally, mathematically, impossible for us to choose to keep everyone. We kept as many as we could and we’ll fill in the pieces as we go.”

Another departure from the starting offence was centre Peter Godber who is now a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Campbell, Neil McEvoy and company anticipated that happening and made thus sure they landed their number one free agent target in Michael Couture, a Burnaby native who earned two Grey Cup rings with the Blue Bombers as part of the CFL’s most prolific offensive line.

“Michael Couture was definitely a target for many reasons, he’s widely regarded as one of the best centres in this league and again it’s a bonus that he’s from here,” said Campbell.

“He lives in Coquitlam, so he’s close by. Again, which isn’t mandatory but I’m always a fan of having a good group of guys who are from BC and have pride in being from there, all those things. That was a great fit and I know he’s excited about it. That was a big part of it with the O-line and like I said, we’ve been able to keep the other guys: (Jarell) Broxton, Sukh, there’s a whole list of guys that we still have here, so that was good.”

Continuity begins with building around the quarterback

As weird as it sounds, the Lions will enter 2023 with more clarity and continuity at the starting quarterback position. There were plenty of questions and a few doubts over the idea of going into last season with an unproven Nathan Rourke at the helm.

No one could have predicted Rourke being on pace to shatter the 1991 records set by Doug Flutie before going down with his foot injury in mid-August. Perhaps fittingly, that sad turn of events led to the trade for Vernon Adams Jr., a player who showed as recently as 2019 that he himself can put up an All-Star calibre body of work.

Many of the moves mentioned above, particularly with the offensive line and hanging on to those other important veterans, are designed to put Adams Jr. in the best position to revert back to that form. The Lions were also quick to add a capable backup in Dominique Davis, whom Campbell previously worked with in Ottawa.

Vernon Adams Jr. signed an extension to stay with the Lions through 2024 earlier this month (Christian Bender/CFL.ca)

“Vernon was our guy, and that’s our attitude. We did want to bring in anybody with experience. We know it always takes at least two quarterbacks to get it done in this league, just through injury and things that happen,” said Campbell.

“It was good to get Dominique Davis who’s been around and done some really good things. VA knows him, which is good, and he actually lives on (Vancouver) Island, Dominique Davis does, so that was another bonus; just having another guy that was hanging out in BC. We were sure happy with VA. That was my first time working with him, he came in and led us to, I think, a 4-2 record in the regular season and stepped into a tough situation in that you’re trying to replace a guy that was playing at Nathan Rourke’s level and I’ve been really happy with him ever since he’s been here.”

A good group of players at important positions is only one piece of the continuity puzzle. For the first time since perhaps the heart of Wally Buono’s long and successful tenure, the franchise can say it has stability from owner Amar Doman right on down. Campbell takes a lot of pride in being a part of that.

“You want to be a part of an organization where things are building and trending in the right direction,” said Campbell. “I view it all works together on the field and off the field. We’re trying to establish some continuity of people here.

“It’s so hard if you have too much turnover in whatever part of the organization. I’ll give you an example: we’re going to go up to Kamloops for training camp with basically the same football ops staff. So, all of these important people from equipment to media to athletic therapy, all the stuff that goes into it. The same coaching staff. Obviously, Neil has been here for 150 years (laughs). Do you know what I mean? Just us going up there, now it’s our third year of all being together.

“We start at such a higher point of just being organized and ready to go. Obviously, the most important component is the players and we think we have a large enough group of them that understands what it takes to win and how hard it is to win and how much work is put into it, It’s fun to see the BC Lions on the rebound like this.”

Continuity is indeed key to the club’s success. It will be fascinating to see it all come together starting from day one in Kamloops.

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