ULLRICH: Familiar points to ponder after Lions loss

Hey, so if the B.C. Lions can trot out another performance with the same litany of mistakes Saturday like they did in almost of their other losses so far this season, can we trot out the same lede? We can?

Once again, not by popular demand, more points to ponder after another soul-crushing 24-21 setback to the Saskatchewan Roughriders that will have some sounding the alarm to abandon ship even at the halfway mark of the season.

Crunch time: Ed Hervey tacitly was asking for patience when he referred to the new group of players he had assembled for training camp as an expansion team, but even the new Lions football ops CEO couldn’t have thought the experience he brought on board would have this many problems.

What remains to be seen is if the man in charge has the same resolve as is being asked of the exiting paying customer, but halfway through the year it’s pretty clear there haven’t been enough changes. As bad as last season ended, they were 5-4 at halftime last season, or two wins better than their 3-6 record right now.

Until this team curbs its insatiable knack to combine preventable penalties with an inability to sustain drives thanks to things like dropped passes, it’s hard to think when they will post their next win.

B.C. was in a much different place the last time the Riders hit town a year ago The Lions were 5-2. Wally Buono had made changes to his run game, receiving corps, secondary and line of scrimmage and had no issues.

Since then, B.C. is 5-15, with two wins over Montreal and just two more against teams .500 or better at the time, and only on special teams can it be argued have they made any significant progress in being competitive.

Hervey signed 10 players on the opening day of free agency in February. He may have to sign 10 more to make the fan base believe the Lions are on the right track. The GM was given a scary example of what this team would look like without Manny Arceneaux when the receiver went down with a knee injury in the first half Saturday. Kevin Elliott and Ricky Collins, two of three receivers brought in by Hervey to help stabilize the offence, caught just six of a combined 15 passes thrown their way.

B.C.’s only current receiving option on the practice roster: UBC rookie Will Watson.

Hervey could change the coach and send Wally Buono into early retirement of course, a move that would appease a segment of the fan base. It would be delusional, however, to think that replacing Buono with either Jarious Jackson or Mark Washington would result in a better record when the respective coordinators can’t squeeze enough out of the players they currently coach, at least at this stage.

And if you already want to start focusing on the future, keep in mind the Lions already traded their first round pick in next year’s Canadian draft.

B.C. will invariably point to the fact it has lost its last four games by an average of 4.25 points. The Lions aren’t good enough, and now the man in charge has another bye week to sort out whether he wants to do something about it or demonstrate the same kind of patience needed to stomach the size of the rebuilding job he inherited.

From the heart: the most obvious attribute of the Lions’ most productive offensive performer is the consistency demonstrated by tailback Jeremiah Johnson, who was just as emotional after the loss as he was prior to kickoff.

Johnson expressed concern during the practice week that the offence might become lackadaisical and simply show up to cash paycheques. Ask a guy for a critique moments after he watched quarterback Cody Fajardo fail to pick up the yardage needed to maintain the Lions final possession and you don’t have to guess the tenor of his remarks.

Of course he wanted the ball on third down when the Lions needed to maintain their chance for Ty Long to try a potential sixth field goal or perhaps even more. But Johnson said the Lions would be very wise to do some quiet soul- searching during their third and final bye of the schedule.

“I just think if we look in the mirror and ask yourself ‘what do you want to do with this season’?” Johnson said on TSN 1040 after the game. “I just think honestly being vocal and cursing players out isn’t the way to go. Nobody wants nobody yelling in their face especially when pride is involved.”

The tailback suggested the offence is struggling because it has failed to properly focus.

“This is a personal issue as far as knowing where you need to go. I can’t make accurate plays if I m not in the right spot. We have to be accountable to get in the playbook. This offence worked when everyone is at the same depth,” he said.

“As a veteran I pride myself knowing everything. I don’t want my team looking me saying ‘he’s a five year vet and he doesn’t know what to do.’ We have to take that same feel. We’re professionals here. We’re not in high school. It’s details.

“A lot of guys, in my opinion, kind of look to the next guy over to make plays. As a team and offence we have to look at each other in the face and say we all can make this play.”

Johnson had 15 touches to produce 91 yards to lead the Lions. B.C. receivers caught just one pass in excess of 30 yards in the loss.

Crystal ball time: It’s OK to look into the future given how miserable the recent past has unfolded, and on 1040 Friday, Lions president Rick LeLacheur did a fair bit of forward thinking as part of the station’s annual President’s Week feature.

The new man at the top dropped no bombshells in his two hours on the air. He offered no hope to those hoping for an ownership change, another Grey Cup game for Vancouver in the next couple of years or a sizeable shift in ticket price structure.

LeLacheur did offer a few out-of-the-box suggestions, however, such as perhaps offering nine different uniform looks to highlight the Lions’ past sometime down the road. He said the league has talked about 12-minute quarters as a means to shorten games and maintain focus of millennials, which actually might have come in handy Saturday.

Last week’s decision announced by commissioner Randy Ambrosie to relax touchdown celebrations was another signal, LeLacheur said, of the league’s fluid approach.

“Randy said ‘any idea is not crazy’,” LeLacheur said of the tenor of talks at a recent league meeting of club presidents.

Winning games might help too.



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.