Dream or nightmare? Lions hope Buono 2.0 makes difference

 As part of 3DownNation’s preview of the 2016 season, we’ll be examining the dream and nightmare scenarios for a number of CFL teams. Next: The B.C. Lions.

There are few questions posed to Wally Buono where he does not have an answer when it comes to his profession of choice or for that matter, matters beyond football. A good number of his answers also come with an opinion. Questioners are forewarned: Ask, then stand back when the man talks.

There is, however, one question that is more relevant than any other when it comes to the B.C. Lions this year that Buono can’t answer, and he suggests we’ll all have to wait and watch to get a definitive response at the same time.

There is no bigger storyline about the regular season that starts against the Calgary Stampeders Saturday than whether the mere return of the winningest coach in CFL history will be enough to reverse the continuous tailspin in which the Lions have lost two more games than the previous year in each of the last four campaigns.

Truth is, Buono knows he has to wait to see if he makes a difference like everyone else.

“To this point I’m not sure how to answer that,” he said. “It’s been a competitive group. I’ve seen improvement. They practice hard. They always practised hard. I don’t have enough information.”

What is clear, however, is that if he returned Buono couldn’t coach the same way he did upon leaving the game after the Lions’ 2011 Grey Cup win, which is to say even if the team isn’t more successful this season the old/new coach will be operating differently.

That means this year so far practices are shorter, there were Twitter and cell phone breaks for players, plus music during warmups at training camp. There’s also no trouble determining who is in charge, which is the biggest reason Jeff Tedford is no longer around and the change was made in the first place.

“We didn’t want to have another voice, another direction,” Buono said. “That causes a bit of confusion and uncertainty. I believed we’ve minimized that.”

Yet for all the changes, and the Lions have 25 new faces in camp to start the season, this year could obviously go either way, which is why 3DownNation offers two potential scenarios as to how the year could unfold.

The Dream Scenario

The focus with the Lions and their new-look uniforms isn’t a great deal different from every other CFL team. The difference for Jon Jennings (above) this season is at least he is being paid to stress out about being the focus of attention behind centre.

B.C. gave the 23-year-old quarterback an off-season contract extension on the basis of six regular season starts last season and will discover if he can sustain the hype over his first full pro season. He’ll have one of the more experienced group of receivers in the West Division, led by Manny Arceneaux, who hopes the return of Nick Moore will allow him more space. Another possible surprise: Third-year man Bryan Burnham.

The offensive line is almost completely new, back to using three Canadians in the middle. Jeremiah Johnson takes over as the featured tailback from Andrew Harris and believes he’ll have running lanes that didn’t always appear for his predecessor.

Defensively, Solomon Elimimian returns after a ghastly season-ending Achilles injury last August and anchors a front seven largely unchanged from last year. Mike Edem and Brandon Stewart are newcomers on a secondary that still features ageless Ryan Phillips, starting his 13th season.

Richie Leone appears as if he has solved the yips that marked his rookie season replacing Paul McCallum last year but the biggest addition on special teams is the addition of new coordinator Marcello Simmons. It all has to work for the Lions to get on the right side of .500 of course, but Buono believes the pieces are in place and only require assembly.

The Nightmare Alternative

Then again, Jennings might just be a flash in the plan, and when the Lions need to switch quarterbacks they’ll discover Travis Lulay has suffered another injury. The technical teachings of returning offensive line coach Dan Dorazio get too much into the heads of his players and the Lions front line revert to looking like turnstiles allowing defenders to destroy their quarterback and render Johnson and the run game ineffective.

Arceneaux has another 1,000-yard receiving season but doesn’t have any company in that department again, making it six seasons since the Lions had two pass-catchers in four figures during the same year.

Defensively, the Lions give up even more than the 5.4 yards per rushing carry they allowed last year and show they can’t stop the run again, the pass rush still hasn’t materialized and Phillips shows his age. Leone petitions the league to have 32-yard convert attempts banned. Buono doesn’t get his message of accountability across and is summoned to have a very long, quiet talk about his future with owner David Braley.


Offence: QBs Jon Jennings, Travis Lulay, Keith Price; OLs Jovan Olafioye, Hunter Steward, Cody Husband, Charles Vaillancourt, Antonio Johnson, Tim O;Neill; RBs Jeremiah Johnson, Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, Rolly Lumbala, Nathan O’Halloran; WRs Emmanuel Arceneaux, Nick Moore, Bryan Burnham, Shawn Gore, Marco Iannuzzi, Steven Adekolu.

Defence: DLs Craig Roh, Mich’ael Brooks, Jabar Westerman, Alex Bazzie, Darius Allen, David Menard; LBs Solomon Elimimian, Adam Bighill, Bo Lokombo, Dyshawn Davis, Jason Arakgi, Adrian Clarke; DBs Ronnie Yell, T.J. Lee, Mike Edem, Eric Fraser, Ryan Phillips, Anthony Thompson, Dylan Parker, Brandon Stewart, Loucheiz Purifoy.

Special teams: K Richie Leone, KR Chris Rainey, LS Mike Benson.

46-man extras: KB Steven Clarke, DL Zach Minter

Practice roster: WR Brett Blaszko, WR Devonn Brown, TB J.C. Coleman, LB Nehemie Kankolongo, DLs Kache Palacio, George Uko, WR Shaquille Johnson, OL Quinn Horton, DL Andrew Hudson

Injured/disabled: TB Anthony Allen, OL Jaz Dhillon, DT Maxx Forde, DL Bryant Turner, WR Geraldo Boldewijn, OL Levy Adcock.

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.