Jon Jennings was all ears as always when it came time to talk shop with Travis Lulay but it was what the backup quarterback of the B.C. Lions said to the starter about his new life off the field that could benefit him the most.
Face it, every married male on the planet could relate.
Jennings left bachelorhood on New Year’s Eve in Maui, a wedding attended by Lulay and his wife, and before much time had passed after the ceremony the father of two passed on a little advice about spouses.
“They’re always right,” Jennings relayed with a little grin what Lulay told him, proving again he is as good at accepting pointers in the real world as learning about operating an offence in the frenzied world of three-down football.
Truth is, what will win brownie points at home is still the right approach for Jennings as he approaches his second year as a CFL starter. After what he did in his first full season behind centre Jennings has established a lofty threshold to cross in the Lions’ quest to win a West Division final and finally return to a Grey Cup game.
The 24-year-old more than validated the faith shown in him by former coach Jeff Tedford during the quarterback’s first season with Wally Buono on the sidelines. Jennings threw for 5,226 yards, the third-highest total in franchise history, and started every game as a sophomore.
Jennings and Lulay came to Vancouver on their own this week to review last year and to look ahead to the May 28 opening of training camp. The starter doesn’t view a repeat of last year as an unattainable goal where pass yards are concerned, but his success has led him to think more can be achieved by taking his foot slightly off the pedal in the season ahead.
Jennings gave the Lions a much-needed shot of adrenalin in a marketplace which has yet to fully embrace his achievements, throwing for more completions (40) in excess of 30 yards last season. But it was Jennings who referenced up his league-high 15 interceptions as a grounds for improvement when he sat down with Lulay and offensive coordinator Khari Jones this week. He vows to keep throwing the deep ball, not the stupid ball.
“Turnovers are going to pop up; I’ve got to continue to be patient,” said Jennings when asked about his takeaways from last season. “My tendency to play aggressive hurts me sometimes. I’ve got to know when I can take a shot and when I can take a sack or throw the ball away.”
If Jennings does add one of the few missing attributes to his game and matches his first full season, the Lions could well find themselves in a situation similar to this winter when five players signed futures contracts in the NFL, only they will be trying to absorb the loss of their offensive leader.
In exchange for pulling down a reported $175,000 as a base salary this year, Jennings has a similar NFL option window after this season. Even if he does return to B.C. in 2018, the Lions would almost certainly have to renegotiate a deal that bumps up to $300,000 with another standout CFL season, which is one big reason Lulay wasn’t being traded as rumored to Saskatchewan a few weeks back.
For now, Buono has successfully mastered a transition at the most important position on the field, and knowing the Lions are a lukewarm success at best currently in the Lower Mainland, added considerable spark by somehow landing receiver Chris Williams in free agency.
Williams will have his training camp reps structured, Buono said, owing to season-ending ACL surgery last year, but between him and fellow injured receiver Nick Moore the Lions feel they can withstand the potential loss of Canadian Shawn Gore to retirement despite any ratio implications.
In the middle of the off-season, the Lions are in a comfort zone, at least on offence, with Jennings at ease with a familiar scheme and few conversions to make for the time being.
“This is really a luxury,” said Lulay, who has bonded off the field with Jennings much as he did with Mike Reilly before he left to become a cornerstone quarterback in Edmonton.
“The last couple of years it’s been new at this time of year. After going into ‘14 it was new with Khari, going into ‘15 it was (Tedford) and George (Cortez). Last year it was Khari and (new receivers coach) Marcel Bellefeiulle restamping. We feel head and shoulders better. The foundation is so much more exciting.”
There’s still the small matter of replacing the leadership of Adam Bighill, Ryan Phillips plus four other defensive starters. But the uncertainty that came prior to last year with an unproven quarterback is a thing of the past looking ahead for the Lions. It’ll also help Jennings knows to take out the trash when asked.
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