Shrwed moves by Wally Buono gives Lions depth to overcome injuries

An astute set of moves by B.C. Lions coach and general manager Wally Buono during the winter has made it much easier for the CFL team to withstand two season-ending injuries.

B.C. (3-1) will visit the 2-1-1 Calgary Stampeders on Friday without starting defensive back T.J. Lee and veteran receiver, Nick Moore. Both players were injured in the Lions’ 40-27 win over Saskatchewan that preceded a bye week and will not return this year.

Replacement defensive back Steven Clarke and receiver Geraldo Boldewijn will have a chance for season-long work with strong outings against Calgary. Neither player was in the Lions’ off-season plans. Buono let both players out of existing contracts with the Lions in order for them to work out with NFL clubs.

An unorthodox bit of flexibility on the part of the CFL’s leader in career coaching wins has enabled the Lions to deal easily with the first serious rash of injuries to face the team this year.

“All the clauses in a contract aren’t always normal,” said Buono, who also raised eyebrows this week when he re-signed defensive backs Chandler Fenner and Anthony Gaitor to the practice roster after cutting them in training camp.

“You have to compromise a little. You can be hard and I’ve been hard, but if being fair meets everyone’s needs then let’s be fair.”

The Lions knew what they had in Clarke, who played 15 games last year at wide-side cornerback in the defensive secondary before a failed bid to make the NFL’s Tennessee Titans this spring.

“It was just a great opportunity that B.C allowed me to come back,” said the 25-year-old Clarke upon taking over for Lee, who had been the best player in the Lions secondary through their first four games.

The 25-year-old Boldewijn, making only his second CFL start, could be more pivotal to the Lions success. The six-foot-four, 220-pound Dutch-born international, who played in college at Boise State, has considerably less pro experience, but his size drew interest from teams on both sides of the border.

“(Buono) knew that as a young player I had my goals,” said Boldewijn, who had a tryout last year with the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens and was previously featured in the HBO mini-series Hard Knocks while trying out for the Atlanta Falcons.

“We both kept our words. I got to explore. I’m glad to come back.”

The moves will pay immediate dividends if both contribute towards erasing a string of bad road losses by the Lions in Calgary.

With a 2-0 road record so far, the Lions are off to their best start overall in nine years and have already recorded a 20-18 win in the season opener over the Stamps. However, B.C. has only a one-point win in its last five regular season road games at McMahon Stadium, allowing an average of 31 points in four losses, and was hammered 35-9 in last year’s West Division semifinal against Calgary.

A win would give the Lions the season series against Calgary as well as considerably added confidence, according to veteran defensive back Ryan Phillips.

“They’ve been a great home team for the last few years,” said Phillips of the Stampeders. “We’ve got to be the aggressor. We’ve got to throw the first punch. We got to understand what’s at stake.”

At stake for Clarke and Boldewijn is a chance to carve out a career.

“Clarke has a prime opportunity to see our defence stays afloat,” Phillips said. “Geraldo doesn’t have to be Nick Moore but he has to play at a high level.”

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.