Flamboyant DL Odell Willis coming out of shell at Lions camp

Odell Willis is acting more like his old self again.

The veteran defensive lineman began his stay with the B.C. Lions last week talking like a rookie but only a few days into his 10th CFL training camp once more sounded like among the leagues most flamboyant personalities when asked about his five seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos.

Willis is part of a large migration of former Edmonton players acquired by new Lions general manager Ed Hervey, another Eskimos alumnus. The 33-year-old Willis didn’t hold back when asked if he knew why he was part of an off-season, three-team deal that landed him with his fifth West Division squad.

B.C.’s new starting rush end was told he was acquired to bring his leadership to change the locker-room culture with the Lions. He is not sure if that was the same reason he was dealt by Edmonton after talking with Eskimos coach Jason Maas.

“I basically read through what he told me and realized my time was done (in Edmonton) and the fact other players were telling me (coaches) think I’m a bad leader or spoiled apple. Why would they let me lead the team? How can I go from being the best leader in the league to all of a sudden the worst leader?” Willis said.

The player known as the Mayor of Swaggerville in Winnipeg acted more like a rookie upon reporting to camp. Willis tweeted on social media last week that he was excited and nervous about joining the Lions.

The Edmonton exit has played a small part, Willis said, in taking a subordinate role during his first week with the Lions. The barrell-rolls which have been part of Willis’ game after sacks will likely have to wait until the Lions open the regular season at home June 16 against Montreal.

“You always get excited to start a new season. The fact you’re doing it with a new team, you have rookie expectations. Guys look to you to help them but I’m new here too,” said Willis.

“When you got guys like Travis Lulay, Solomon Elimimian and Manny Arceneaux there’s a respect factor. My thing is to fit in and learn their ways and that helps the younger guys buy in. I know their way works.”

Despite being the oldest player on a roster that has 51 new faces in camp, coach Wally Buono is touting Willis as a possible every-down defensive lineman this season in a revamped front four. Willis didn’t make it through practice Thursday, however, removed as a precaution after suffering a possible concussion.

“People don’t realize that the best pass rushers are 30-plus,” said Buono. “Pass-rushing is an art. Odell does it really well. He gets off that ball really fast and gives you something that’s going to affect the quarterback.”

Willis and Gabe Knapton, acquired in an off-season trade from Montreal, will be B.C. starters off the defensive edge. The Lions will rotate a Canadian through the interior alongside a rookie international after the team recently cut veteran import Mich’ael Brooks.

Willis ended his final year in Edmonton being rested in rotation along with veteran internationals Phillip Hunt and John Chick.

“That was kind of confusing to me. If that’s the case, why don’t you rotate quarterbacks?” Willis said.

B.C.’s biggest challenge will be to take advantage of the quickness of Willis and hope he doesn’t cost his new team yardage on a regular basis. Willis is annually also one of the league leaders taking offside penalties.

“It may happen but it’s not something to live with ever giving away free yardage,” said Lions defensive line coach Randy Melvin.

However, limiting expression won’t be an issue once Willis comes out of his shell, said Melvin, a no-nonsense assistant.

“I learned a long time ago, when I had a player who was wild and expressive and I clamped down on him and he didn’t produce, I said ‘go back to it, please.’ You learn over time that performance is reality,” said Melvin.

Lowell Ullrich

Lowell Ullrich

Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.
Lowell Ullrich
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Lowell Ullrich
About Lowell Ullrich (154 Articles)
Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.

7 Comments on Flamboyant DL Odell Willis coming out of shell at Lions camp

  1. White Horse // May 24, 2018 at 5:41 pm //

    Willis in a shell? That is a farce. His shell is wide open. Huff brought Willis into the CFL and when Odell was young he was more than a hand full. Huff traded him away. Too much distraction for a we team. Willis was a me team.

    • Actually, Willis being “in a shell” is completely believable and pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Especially considering he’s in a new environment.

      With Willis it’s always been a total act – – his over the top antics that are the real charade. To the point that he overcompensates.

      If you deal with people enough you can see which ones are naturally gregarious and outgoing and also the ones where it’s contrived.

      Expecting Willis to be a “leader” in the room is laughable.

      Extremely selfish player who’s always been more concerned with his own stats than with team success.

      Why do you suppose he’s constantly dumped from one team to another? Teams get sick of his sideshow act real quick and can’t wait to get rid of him.

      The ONLY thing Willis is concerned with are his personal sack totals. That’s why he’s constantly taking selfish penalties by jumping offside. ZERO effort on run defence and ZERO effort in pursuit.

      Watch how little effort Willis gives against the run. Completely oblivious to any kind of contain responsibilities. His idea of “pursuit”
      is to take a few steps back towards the line of scrimmage.

  2. greenenvy? // May 24, 2018 at 6:48 pm //

    I think Willis was a team player in Edmonton but it didn’t sit well with the coaches when he didn’t want to sit out last year. He kind of ducked the issue while still making it known through his body language he wasn’t happy. So they sat him out again. Right or wrong that contributed to his release though I think the Eskimos were looking at going younger anyway.

  3. Evil Empire // May 24, 2018 at 9:01 pm //

    During his tenure in Edm, prior to Maas. He was obviously a leader. And the boys followed.

    An example.

    In well over 30 years, as an Eskimo fan ( With season tickets. I left Edm in 2013 ). I had never seen a situation like that, before. But, in 2015. I believe it was after the last reg season home game ( Or possibly after the West Final… Maybe both ). Odell Willis LED a procession of Eskimos into the stands after the game. And paraded up the steps amongst the fans. It was beautiful to see. He drew attention to the fans, and their Eskimos. And brought them both closer together. t wasn’t all about Odell Willis.

    So even though I was living in the US for the 2015 season. I observed intently from afar.

    Willis was clearly a leader that year. And he was obviously the big gun on D. With Reilly being the guy on O. Without either guy… There is no way the Eskimos could have overcome Reilly’s injury. And then won the GC, imo.

    Even being down 2 TDs early. I never doubted the Eskimos would win. It was that vibe. And guys like Willis brought that vibe.

    I don’t know anything about this specific situation. But, I do know what I saw from Odell, in 13, 14, & 15 ( Before Maas ). Just watch the “ Journey to the Grey Cup “, video. There’s a part Where Reilly, and Willis had obviously discussed their crappy 4-14 2013 season just between themselves. And then they went into 2014 and implemented a certain mindset within the room. That is the epitome of being a LEADER.

    I can’t find the link right now. But, if you can watch the 2015 GC celebration, and interviews on the field. Willis gave Mike Reilly all the credit.

    That was Humble, Baddass, Respectful, and the attitude that old school members of the Mighty Edmonton Eskimos Nation EXPECT, and admire the most.

    I wish he could have ignored any slight he may have perceived. And just let it go, without going public. He would have maintained the moral high ground. Even if it was only him that felt he was screwed. There’s no point in talking about it afterward. But, that’s Odell.

    This not being a leader stuff is news to me. At least until 2016. He was an ESKIMO through, and through, imo.

    Best of luck in BC, Odell.

    • Lancaster/Reed // May 24, 2018 at 11:34 pm //

      You picked a bad year to move away from edmonton. You had to watch their grey cup run on tv instead of in the stands.

  4. I hope he works out better than last years Ricky Foley experiment. Hopefully he still has something left in the tank.

  5. You suck Odell. Cheap shot on Collaros in 2014 basically sealed his fate as the TC’s starting QB (or a pro QB, period) and any TC GC aspirations for us long suffering TC fan base.

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