B.C. Lions coach laments elimination of padded practices

The prospect of extended career longevity of every player in the CFL was raised when commissioner Randy Ambrosie and members of the league’s Players Association Wednesday jointly announced the elimination of padded practices.

But there was also something lost for the B.C. Lions assistant with the longest coaching tenure, judging by the look on the face of offensive line assistant Dan Dorazio. It was a look that suggested the game he fell in love with upon joining the coaching profession 45 years ago has gone forever.

It wasn’t hard to detect that the Lions old-school coach, while understanding the importance of player safety, figures the game is turning into a form of flag football.

“Let’s go do that,” Dorazio said sarcastically moments after being told about the joint announcement, which came while the Lions were in the middle of a practice session ahead of Saturday’s road game with the Calgary Stampeders.

“When you don’t practice with pads the game is different. It’s like you’re in a pillow fight. On game day you got to show up and be in the fist fight. It ain’t the same thing. The game fundamentally is going to suffer. We will not have a good product out there fundamentally.”

The immediate elimination of padded practices, in reality, is relatively minor. Teams had previously been restricted to padded workouts one day during the practice week and on short weeks they had already been eliminated by several teams, including the Lions.

But Dorazio is a stickler on technique, though he is not so much of a taskmaster that he will avoid tasks himself. When coach/GM Wally Buono ordered his team to run gassers at the end of practice Wednesday, Dorazio ran with his players, as did several other assistants.

It’s just that with the league and its union restricting padded practices to training camp sessions, there’s no chance to teach anymore. He’s not buying the argument that players’ careers will be extended as a result of the decision either.

“We don’t work them like we used to, and I think the game suffers on every level. Football is not pushing and shoving. It’s getting your pads down, knees bent, shedding and tackling on defence. Don’t get me wrong, player safety is important but we’re stretching this one now,” Dorazio said.

It’s no surprise that the feeling was not mutual among his players.

“It’s the CFLPA taking care of its players. I’ve always believed that if players know what they’re doing you don’t need pads to practice. You can get your hitting done in training camp,” offensive lineman Hunter Steward said.

Defensive lineman Mich’ael Brooks, who is playing through a shoulder issue that the Lions want to protect with padded equipment, said some players could still benefit from pads in practice. He’s not complaining though.

“I look at it like the NBA. It may be less physical but it’s still a great product,” Brooks said.

The league and union also announced that the season would be extended to include a third bye week which will help out some scheduling challenges associated with a nine-team league.

However, if the league season is brought forward, teams could also be impacted in the spring by a potential conflict between the NFL draft and its Canadian college counterpart.

Some observers have suggested the league is taking the unconventional step of making concessions during the life of the current collective agreement to prevent bigger problems when the deal lapses.

Several sources have suggested the players will ask the next deal to provide better medical benefits for those who injuries take longer to heal. The CFLPA has been actively lobbying in two provinces hoping for worker’s compensation benefits that presently are not available to them.

“We want to start the conversations early. I think it was important to get something done before the end of the CBA,” said Lions player representative Rolly Lumbala.

Lumbala agreed when it was suggested teams will find it more difficult to make player evaluations after training camp. Buono wasn’t in favour of the move but sees the upside.

“The story for me in this is the ability of the commissioner (and union) to resolve a small issue. I don’t believe eliminating contact in 10 practices over a year is going to make any difference,” Buono said.

“I’ve never been a proponent of eliminating contact because football is a contact sport. It has to be weathered to become seasoned. My opinion is at this point when you look at the games there have been more injuries in today’s football than there has been in years past.”

It’s not the same game as in years past but Buono has adjusted with the times.

“Football used to be barbaric and a lot more savage,” said Buono.

To one of his top lieutenants, it’s about to become something else.

“It’ll be a farce,” Dorazio said.

LIONS TALES: Buono was exercising caution with Canadian tailback Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, who was involved in a head-on car accident near the club’s training facility in Surrey Sunday. Murray-Lawrence did not suffer any major injuries, according to an eyewitness account, but hasn’t been at practice all week and will be placed on the team’s disabled list… David Foucault, who lost his job at left tackle to start the year and moved to guard, is the expected starter at right tackle this week. Brooks is back on the defensive front, replacing Bryant Turner, after missing last week. B.C. continues to evaluate two candidates to fill the roster vacancy created by the season-ending knee injury to Travis Lulay. CFL veteran Mitchell Gale is expected to be placed on the 46-man roster this weekend. The Lions are also looking at left-hander Quinn Epperly, who had a previous look in Montreal and played collegiately at Princeton…TSN has reported that free agent Alex Bazzie has turned down contract offers from two CFL teams and intends to sign with the Lions, although a third suitor entered the bidding earlier Wednesday.

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.