When the BC Lions began last season with second-year Canadian Nathan Rourke at quarterback I was skeptical.
We all saw how that turned out.
When a healthy Rourke was calling the plays, BC was the most exciting and talked about team in the CFL. Before his injury nine games into the season, Rourke was a candidate for the Most Outstanding Player award.
The Lions finished second in the West with a 12-6 record, won their first home playoff game since 2016 and kept it close before losing 28-20 to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Western Final.
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The question facing the Lions this year is how good can they be now that Rourke is chasing his NFL dream.
Like most teams in the league, the Lions did some roster shuffling over the winter. Some good players beside Rourke left, some CFL veterans were signed, and new names have been added.
With this background, and considering my stellar history of making predictions, here are some insights and outright guesses of what the Lions roster will look when they open the season June 8 in Calgary against the Stampeders.
|Receiver||Running Back||Quarterback||Fullback||Offensive Line|
|Dominique Rhymes||Antonio Williams||Vernon Adams Jr.||David Mackie*||Kent Perkins (RT)|
|Lucky Whitehead||Sukh Chungh* (RG)|
|Keon Hatcher||Michael Couture* (C)|
|Jevon Cottoy*||Phillip Norman (LG)|
|Jarell Broxton (LT)|
* denotes National
** denotes Global
After signing a two-year contract extension in January, the starting quarterback job is Vernon Adams Jr.’s to lose. He joined the Lions in a late August trade from Montreal and posted a 4-2 record while replacing the injured Rourke. As a Lion, Adams completed 118 of 180 passes for 1,504 yards, six touchdowns and was intercepted only once.
While not the gunslinger Rourke was, the former CFL All-Star looked comfortable in the Lions offence last year and has playoff experience. He may be looking over his shoulder as the Lions have also added Dominique Davis and Dane Evans to their roster.
The battle to replace 1,000-yard back James Butler will be one of the storylines at training camp. The Lions have six running backs on the roster. The five-foot-nine, 215-pound Antonio Williams was undrafted and spent time with both Buffalo and the New York Giants in the NFL.
There’s nothing flashy about David Mackie, he just gets the job done. The six-foot-two, 252-pound Western product had 19 carries for 94 yards last year. The Lions celebrated his lone touchdown of the season like he’d scored in overtime of the Grey Cup.
Even with the retirement of Bryan Burnham the Lions are deep at receiver. Dominique Rhymes, Keon Hatcher and Lucky Whitehead all went over 1,000 yards last year. Jevon Cottoy and Justin McInnis, a free agent signing who spent the last three years with Saskatchewan, are Canadians ready to make the next step.
The Lions lost veteran centre Peter Godber and left tackle Joel Figueroa to free agency, but long-time guard Sukh Chungh signed an extension. Free agent Michael Couture, a Burnaby, BC, native who spent six years with Winnipeg, was signed to replace Godber. Phillip Norman, Jarell Broxton and Kent Perkins are also returning.
|Defensive Back||Linebacker||Defensive Line|
|Garry Peters (CB)||Bo Lokombo* (WLB)||Shawn Lemon (DE)|
|Marcus Sayles (HB)||Ben Hladik* (MLB)||Woody Baron (DT)|
|Quincy Mauger (S)||Emmanuel Rugamba (SAM)||Josh Banks (DT)|
|T.J. Lee (HB)||Mathieu Betts* (DE)|
|Jalon Edwards-Cooper (CB)|
Defensive end Mathieu Betts had eight sacks last year. He will be joined by the ageless Shawn Lemon, who the Lions signed as a free agent after recording 14 sacks for Calgary last year. Josh Banks and Woody Baron are returning as tackles.
Bo Lokombo had 42 defensive tackles and two sacks last year despite missing five games with an elbow injury. Ben Hladik worked his way into a starting role in his second season with the club while Emmanuel Rugamba an outstanding year as a rookie.
The BC defence was third in the league last year in allowing 22.5 points and 329.9 yards in net offence a game. The Lions were confident enough in their depth to release all-star safety Loucheiz Purifoy and trade linebacker Jordan Williams to Toronto.
The Lions remain strong in the secondary with veterans Garry Peters and Marcus Sayles, who combined for nine interceptions last year, T.J. Lee and Jalon Edwards-Cooper. Quincy Mauger played eight games at safety last season.
|Sean Whyte*/Stefan Flintoft||John Levi Kruse**||Terry Williams|
Veteran kicker Sean Whyte hit on 36 of 39 field goals last year while Stefan Flintoft was third in the league averaging 47.5 yards a punt. Look for John Levi Kruse, the 21st overall pick in the 2022 Global Draft from Germany, to replace Tanner Doll as long snapper.
Terry Williams started last year in Ottawa, joined the Lions in a September trade, and finished the year leading the CFL with 2,511 combined yards. His 1,526 kickoff return yards were best in the league.