Lions training camp preview: Hervey not wasting time

It’s pretty clear so far that Ed Hervey has a good sense of time management but where some use an hourglass it’s clear the new general manager of the B.C. Lions is operating with a relative stopwatch.

How else to explain the speed at which Hervey has moved to reshape the CFL team going into the start of training camp Sunday in Kamloops, particularly considering the varied reactions of the guy who previously was responsible for shaping the roster, coach Wally Buono?

Since taking over Nov. 30, Hervey could fill out an opening-day lineup of new players he has acquired, some 51 in all, not to mention the first-round pick in next year’s Canadian draft that has already been shipped away. It’s the natural outcome from regime change in an organization where change was needed, and by no means it is over yet.

“It’s going to take Ed time for to transform the team from what it was to what it’s going to be,” Buono said before heading to camp this weekend. Time? Even by CFL standards, this is a rapid turnover. Hervey is just as fast in his current job as he was all those years hauling in passesfor the Edmonton Eskimos.

By any standard, the Lions now are clearly in the hands of Hervey and new personnel director Torey Hunter. It is no idle suggestion. For 15 years, Buono governed virtually every area of football operations, right down to directing when the grass field at their Surrey facility would be mowed. Not everyone who has watched him was convinced Buono could give up control so easily without spending summer at the beach.

Yet no matter how many times he is asked, the man who has been tacitly told his roster wasn’t good enough but happens to still be the coach insists he’s completely on board with the organizational structure of the Lions in his final CFL season.

“I don’t want total control. It’s not a matter of it being taken away from me, and I don’t say that boastfully,” said Buono. “What makes me different than most people? I’m saying it’s my faith that gives me strength. There was a point in time when I started to change my mindset. When you pray for wisdom you got to be open to transformation.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing all the components that Ed’s brought to us and build a football team with them.”

As much as the team needed an overhaul, so much more needs to be done off the field and is being orchestrated by a new club president Rick LeLacheur, who has addressed a longstanding concern of the team’s fanbasesurrounding ticket pricing.

But by turning a serious thumbs down to a rosterwhich finished out of the playoffs and identifying changes were also needed to the coaching staff the Lions have at least bought a slice of May optimism on the field, where success, by Buono’s admission, was once taken for granted.

Here’s a look at the Lions by position as they settle into the campus at Thompson Rivers University and look for form a team in time for their June 16 home opener at BC Place Stadium against Montreal:

Quarterbacks: Redemption or else

No point wasting pixels here. It’s Jon Jennings’ job to reclaim, and with Travis Lulay given a structured path to recovery from his off-season knee injury CFL vet Cody Fajardo (ex-Toronto) is aboard for early insurance. The fourth spot was won by rookie Ricky Lloyd, who showed off a strong arm in minicamp. But after last season’s drop, it’s a make-or-break year for the starter.

Running backs: Amusing mix

Hervey kept dropping hints about increased competition through the winter and delivered, which might make for a surprising battle. No danger yet for veteran Canadian fullback Rolly Lumbala of course but the composition of imports could become interesting.

Jeremiah Johnson is still the featured tailback but if he didn’t start looking over his shoulder after Hervey traded for Brandon Rutley, that surely changed when Travon Van was taken off the Edmonton scrap heap.

Van can return kicks. So too, of course, can Chris Rainey, which means change is possible depending on how the Lions want to structure the lineup this season.

Receivers: Taking the next step

It’s hard to think a group without Chris Williams, Nick Moore and Marco Iannuzzi will be more experienced, but Manny Arceneaux and Bryan Burnham lead the way and hope others will follow.

Shaquille Johnson had a breakout year and will a chance to change spots in the offence. Fellow Canadian Danny Vandervoort has a chance to move up and if he falters the Lions have a veteran presence in Cory Watson.

The key, short-side wideout spot is an open audition for an import, however, which marks a departure from past seasons when the Lions would sign talented receivers with no place to put them. Ricky Collins (ex-Hamilton/Saskatchewan) has the early inside edge on experience and his ability to return kicks but count on a wide-open race otherwise. Tyler Davis, who got into one game last year as a returner and was seen also as a running back, will compete in this group. Also worth watching: CFL vet Kevin Elliott.

Offensive linemen: It’s all on the line, Part One

Now it gets interesting, as without improvement in this position group the Lions will be toast after finishing last in sacks and pressures allowed last season.

Joel Figueroa was the biggest offensive addition and will take over at left tackle. Antonio Johnson flips to the right side and was set to compete against newcomer Jeremy Lewis, a former Figueroa teammate at Miami.  Lewis, however, announced his retirement via the club Saturday

The Canadian interior will include centre Cody Husband and fellow vet Hunter Steward but right guard is wide open and should become the second-biggest offensive battle of camp. David Foucault and newcomer Chris Greaves figure to be backup candidates. Though three changes among starters is virtually guaranteed it remains to be seen whether it is enough.

Defensive linemen: All on the line, Part Two

No group will look more different than this one, with three starters and seven new faces already guaranteed, and none more in need of change having finished in the bottom third in sacks and pressures last year.

One starting spot will go to a non-import, with sophomore Junior Luke likely in rotation with David Menard and Maxx Forde pushed by draft picks JulienLaurent and Edward Godin. Outside pressure spots will be filled by 33-year-old Odell Willis, who Buono still sees as an every-down rusher, and fellow newcomer Gabe Knapton, and if the Lions develop a personality this year it will come from their two biggest free agent signings.

More change is coming alongside the Canadian spot in the interior. The loss of Euclid Cummings before his first Lions game meant an initial reprieve for Mich’ael Brooks but that came to an end with his release when Hervey couldn’t find a trading partner.

Linebackers: Greatness surrounded by…

Start with Solomon Elimimian, because he’s the only mainstay, with plenty of changes to come. Hervey hopes Otha Foster will make people forget the loss of Chandler Fenner at nickleback if returning sophomore TevinMcDonald doesn’t make a splash at a new position. The weak-side spot is completely wide open. BC signed KeelanJohnson, who led the CFL in special teams tackles with Ottawa last year, before the market blew wide open prior to camp. Bo Lokombo returns and a chance either Adam Bighill or Micah Awe could eventually join him.

Defensive backs: Name tags needed

What remains to be see is if Hervey’s focus on strengthening the defensive push up front has an effect on pass coverage. Hervey invested heavily in familiar faces but starting camp the experienced veteran of the  returninggroup is TJ Lee.

Two CFL vets have an early leg up on the corner spots, Marcell Young and AJ Jefferson, who looks to replace Ronnie Yell. Garry Peters could pair alongside Young with Canadian Anthony Thompson in the middle, pushed by Cauchy Muamba. Kendall James turned some heads during his brief chance late last season. James will likely contest the wide-side corner spot.

Special teams: Even an LS battle

No drama this spring after Ty Long won a job last year by moving past Swayze Waters. Hervey drafted a long-snapper, David Mackie, to challenge Mike Benson, which might result in a switch if the Lions think their second-round pick can contribute in more than one position.

Remember, Mackie was Hervey’s draft and Benson has been a Buono choice for four seasons. It’s a formula that will shape the Lions for the season ahead.

 LIONS TALES: As expected, Canadian offensive lineman Charles Vaillancourt is not listed on the club’s training camp roster. Vaillancourt has a hand problem lingering from last season and would have been a candidate to regain his right guard slot. … Rookie OL Peter Godber agreed to terms, the club announced via social media Saturday, and has put himself in position to take the o-line vacancy. Godber, who played at Rice, was taken third overall in this month’s draft. …. Guest coaches at camp will include former DL Khreem Smith. Art Edgson, who was a guest coach at Buono’s first camp with the Lions, wanted to help out defensive backs during Buono’s last.

 

 

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.