The Canadian Press
A year ago at this time, when just about anyone that wasn’t inside the walls of the BC Lions’ inner sanctum in Surrey was worried about the team’s fortunes, Lucky Whitehead had a knowing grin on his face.
“I knew what kind of guy he was going to be,” Whitehead said of quarterback Nathan Rourke. He and the members of the 2021 Lions practised with Rourke taking a heavy amount of first-team reps that year, while then-starter Michael Reilly dealt with an elbow injury. Those Lions got a glimpse of what their 2022 season would hold.
“You could trust the dude that he was going to get the ball out. His release, everything, it was amazing. He was super smart. I knew what we were getting. I loved that outside noise that we used to get,” Whitehead continued. “That’s kind of what we’re going into in the same situation now, right? Nate’s gone now at quarterback. Is Vernon going to be that guy for us?”
Sitting in the restaurant of a Hamilton hotel last week after doing some promotional work for the CFL, Whitehead had that same knowing grin on his face about his new-ish starting quarterback. We know more about Vernon Adams Jr. right now than we did about Rourke, who’s now on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ roster, at this point last year.
Adams is a former Divisional All-Star and spearheaded a cardiac kids-type of offence when he was at his best with the Montreal Alouettes. He can throw, he can run, he has that escapability that heavier-footed quarterbacks have to be envious of when they see his highlights.
Having come to the Lions after Rourke’s mid-season foot injury, Adams went 4-2 to help get the Lions into their first home playoff date in six years. Through those six games, Whitehead was continually amazed at how well Adams did when he was thrown into the fire for a team in need.
“It’s super hard,” he said of the task Adams took on, remembering his own transition from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to the Lions in 2021.
“Just coming from a different offence as a receiver, you’ll hear a word that’s telling you what to do. You’re at quarterback, you’ve got to tell us the whole play. You have to dissect everything that’s going on out there. I know that was tough,” he said.
“He was trying to keep us afloat and that’s tough and that’s a lot of pressure. He managed the season well.”
A starting quarterback change can be extremely difficult for a team to navigate. It sometimes takes general managers years to find a high quality replacement at the position. The Lions deftly managed their move from Rourke to Adams and took it a step further over the winter, picking up Dane Evans in a trade with Hamilton.
“Jordan Makysmic is very good with his quarterbacks, he’s a great offensive coordinator,” Whitehead said. “However they want to use Dane, he’s another great quarterback that’s had a lot of success in Hamilton. I love the way he throws the ball around, he definitely loves the deep ball. I’m excited to have both of them in the locker room. It’s going to be fun times. I’m very excited for Vernon to start training camp with us and not be thrown into it this year.”
If the Lions’ quarterback is performing on the field, it’ll only mean good things for Whitehead. He broke out as a feature receiver in 2021 with the Lions, after a year of primarily handling return duties for the Blue Bombers. Last year he had the first 1,000 receiving yard season of his career, breaking that mark when injury kept him from it in 2021.
With the retirement of legendary Lions receiver Bryan Burnham, Whitehead should see more targets this year. Despite turnover at some key spots over the last few months, the Lions seem to be in good shape as the 2023 season approaches. Asked if he sees this team as a Grey Cup contender, Whitehead didn’t hesitate.
“Absolutely,” he said.
“To be a contender we have to add camaraderie, that team building. Not just football, but learning your players, knowing your team and I think w’ell be able to do that.
“We’ll have that leader coming in with Vernon, I think he’s a very vocal, positive guy. I think with his leadership and other leaders in the group like myself, Rhymes, Hatch and everybody else on offence, we’re always going to be great. We want to put up as many points as possible. That’s exciting. that’s what people come to watch. I think we’ve got the guys, we’ve got the pieces to do so.”
A year ago, Whitehead had a good feeling about his team when those on the outside had questions about it. He’s more than ready to prove people wrong again when the Lions open the season on June 8 in Calgary.