Lions guard kicked to curb for now

There still a chance that when the CFL regular season opens the B.C. Lions will have a driven right guard in Kirby Fabien who exhibits the traits that made him a first-round Canadian college draft pick.

But there’s also a chance now that the 25-year-old University of Calgary product might have to get the attention of Wally Buono at this point from the bench. That will be his perch in the Lions’ final pre-season game against the Calgary Stampeders Friday having yielded his position to Laval rookie Charles Vaillancourt.

And those who have spent time with Fabien (above) in the trenches say he could still be suffering from the effects of a devastating knee injury that cut short his rookie season in 2013, and is a sign the Lions are serious about repairing a tarnished image.

In his weekly appearance on 3Down Radio on TSN1040, former Lions centre Angus Reid suggested Vaillancourt showed an aggressive side in the 28-16 pre-season win over Saskatchewan that has gone missing in the play of Fabien, who signed a contract extension Dec. 15 that has not been repaid as yet in the eyes of the team’s coach/GM.

“It’s rare to have a rookie Canadian offensive line become a starter and even more rare for Wally but watching the game it makes sense,” Reid said. “Kirby, I don’t think, has performed to the level of flashes before his bad injury. He’s never come back to become a dominant player. Charles looked fantastic. He didn’t lose a block.

“Playing with Kirby ever since that injury he has not been mentally the same person. It happens to a lot of athletes. When it happens you think about other things. You get a crash of morality… Maybe (Fabien) doesn’t want to play much longer.”

Buono inferred to reporters in Kamloops earlier this week his move is both a reward to Vaillancourt and motivation to Fabien, something the Lions had done with him previously when he was benched midway through 2014 after recovering from knee surgery.

“This is all part of the mental gymnastics you have to play with players,” Buono said. “You have to reward success and there has to be consequences for performances we don’t want.”

Reid, however, has the sense that Buono isn’t sending a message to Fabien as he is with his team as a whole, a move made repeatedly by the league’s winningest coach in the early stages of the season in his previous life holding a whistle.

“The worst thing you can have is a comfortable team. Wally has to send that message. He’s fortunate he can do that with a player who can start,” said Reid. “This team doesn’t have merits to rest on. There has to be a sense of urgency. Moves will be made no matter what your contract says.”

The Lions plan to start three Canadians up front but still have eight non-imports in camp, including former draft picks T-Dre Player, Jaz Dhillon and Dillon Guy, along with veteran Tim O’Neill, obtained in trade from Hamilton during the off-season, which complicates Fabien’s status further.

Changes off the pre-season opener aren’t limited to the right side of the offensive line either. Left guard Hunter Steward, who performed admirably at left tackle before injuries became a common theme, will get some reps at his old position Friday so that the Lions can become comfortable with having a backup option behind Jovan Olafioye and rookie import Antonio Johnson.

Another rookie who has performed well in training camp, Loucheiz Purifoy, had taken the starting nickelback held by Steven Clarke when the practice week began in Kamloops.

B.C. has its final Kamloops training camp session this morning before heading down the snowy Coquihalla and the first of two games against Calgary.

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.