Lulay thinks of friend as Lions make QB exchange

The true measure of Travis Lulay is not his decision to return as quarterback of the B.C. Lions Saturday, a move made partly with an understanding as to how much he is needed relative to his own health and recovery.

Another accurate understanding of Lulay was on display after practice Thursday as the Lions try to pick themselves up collectively for a rematch against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at B.C. Place Stadium, and it was measured in the passion evident in Lulay’s voice as he discussed Jonathan Jennings.

Jennings started each day of practice this week with the starters, but knowing full well if he is needed to play he is the CFL team’s second choice.

But as the quarterback who lost his job to Jennings because he was older and had established a reputation of being injury-prone (forgetting his ability to recover each time so far), Lulay was still full of empathy for a teammate who is on the verge of losing his job and may or may not get it back.

Vintage Lulay is a smile and an answer in another scrum no matter how mundane the question. Vintage Lulay is ending every practice session running routes as a receiver taking passes from Jennings and vice versa like teenagers. Vintage Lulay is also in his voice when talking about a friend.

“I do feel for (Jennings) because I know he has not gotten the result I think he deserves,” Lulay said. “I see Jon work so hard. He’s really diligent, thoughtful; he cares a lot. Anytime you don’t perform to your own standards you got to learn to develop big shoulders because it does feel like there’s a lot of weight.

“For me I know there’s a very good football player inside of Jon and he is going to find it. I’m going to continue to find a way to build his confidence. He knows how much I want to see him succeed.”

Vintage Lulay indeed, words similar to those he said years back about another friend and former teammate before it was clear Mike Reilly had to move on from the Lions in order to establish his career with the Edmonton Eskimos.

Like most teams, the Lions are creatures of process and as such neither Lulay nor coach Wally Buono wanted to declare a change at quarterback until all parties met away from the cameras Thursday. Buono has been ready to make a change for a while. The club’s medical staff cleared Lulay some time ago, and before their walkthrough Friday the club made the change official.

But both parties are appreciative of the caution being taken by the quarterback after the third major surgical procedure of his career, and the long-term effects of a premature return.

It’s Lulay’s call and in a quiet moment earlier this week, he admitted he wouldn’t mind a bit more recovery time, giving him a chance to go full speed just as a CFL receiver appreciates the benefit of crossing the line of scrimmage in a sprint at the snap.

But a struggling team also has needs, which left Lulay seeking balance and the Lions trying not to be seen as pushy.

Though Jennings has to sit, Buono was put in the delicate position of encouraging the younger Lions quarterback this week in the event he is still needed. But there’s also little doubt Jennings’ frustration is matched by new offensive coordinator Jarious Jackson. It has already spun suggestions, according to TSN sources, that Jennings’ recovery could eventually continue elsewhere, though shot down for the time being by the man now in charge of the Lions.

“Noone thinks he’s a write-off,” general manager Ed Hervey said on TSN 1040 Thursday.

Those words will be encouraging to Jennings, who for the first time admitted to the angst that comes upon becoming a career sub-.500 CFL pivot for the first time last week, and one who isn’t seeing the field as he did two years ago.

“It’s a funny dynamic. When you’re in a rut it sometimes is hard to get out,” Jennings said. “I’m frustrated we’re losing. I’m frustrated I’m not playing up to par. I know it’s hard and frustrating for everyone to see but I’m the one who has to deal with it.”

Jennings won’t deal with it alone. He and Lulay will surely talk a time or two before kickoff Saturday as the Lions prepare to make another major change. Friends first, then to likely take back the torch.

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.