More cloudiness for Lions; Rainey not in forecast

On the surface, the idea that the B.C. Lions would seek ways to boost their offensive production by sitting the player who has generated more combined yards than anyone in the CFL might seem a little counterintuitive.

Then again, when coach Wally Buono said before his final CFL season he planned to be a bit more reckless perhaps he was merely warming to the thought of benching Chris Rainey.

The 30-year-old receiver/returner, who likely would be a podium finisher among the fastest in three-down football, has not worked with the offence for the first two days of the practice week and Buono has not exactly tried to bat aside the notion Travon Van will take his place in the lineup against his former Ottawa Redblacks teammates when the Lions return after their third bye week Friday.

Rainey started the week leading the CFL with 1,525 yards and has previously stated a goal of 5,000 this season based on his contributions on both offence and special teams.

But the split load has caused the Lions issues ever since Rainey was signed as a free agent discard in 2015 of the Montreal Alouettes and for the time being at least their patience has run out.

Defences have keyed on the Florida speedster when he has joined the offensive huddle, and the Lions have been unable to make him a successful decoy. Position coaches have stated Rainey can cause issues with his alignment and assignment errors, which is having a ripple effect throughout the offence.

However the Lions are even more concerned that Rainey has not been aggressive enough returning kicks and failed to utilize his speed to attack holes on special teams. Rainey is fourth among kick return specialists in the league so far this year, averaging 12.4 yards per return, having broken only one of 36 touches for a touchdown and two runs over 30 yards.

A fumble on a punt return attempt in the Lions’ loss to Saskatchewan, which led to three of the 10 points the Riders scored off turnovers, hasn’t helped  his cause either.

Rainey and his mates were shown a video after they returned from the break outlining missed opportunities on special teams, at which time it was suggested changes were forthcoming.

Buono hasn’t let it be known publicly whether he has asked general manager Ed Hervey to get something for Rainey through the trade market, but it’s pretty clear the returner isn’t far from requesting his agent ask the Lions to explore their options himself.

“I understand (the situation) with all the losses and them preaching on the details. Some stuff just goes too far,” said Rainey, who also led the league with 3,181 combined yards last year. “I’m really just sick of all this (bleep). I give my heart and soul to this team, but I guess it ain’t good enough.”

B.C. heads into the second half of the season in the unusual position of knowing Buono will not be back in charge, and forced Rainey to ponder when asked if the Lions could find it difficult playing for a retiring coach down the stretch.

“I want him to win out and I’m trying to do everything I can to help him win out, but like he says the little details are killing us,” said Rainey, who is eligible for free agency after this season.

Attention to detail was among the topics discussed when the Lions met to air their concerns prior to the start of the practice week. It was a meeting, players said, were a number of grievances were brought forward.

“You have to be honest with yourself,” receiver Bryan Burnham said. “You can sit there and say ‘I’ve been perfect every game.’ You haven’t. That was our big message; take what you haven’t been doing well the past few weeks and really work on that.”

Burnham’s load, of course, just got substantially larger as a result of the knee injury suffered by Manny Arceneaux, the only pass catcher on the Lions with an 100-yard receiving game this season.

It may be simply too much to think Burnham can make up for the loss of potential offensive production of both Arceneaux and Rainey. Unless Hervey makes a trade or finds added help on the open market, that’s the load the Lions could face if Buono goes through with a move involving Rainey that clearly has the team’s attention.

LIONS TALES: Arceneaux will be out but fellow receiver Ricky Collins returned to practice Tuesday which will allow the Lions to play with three import pass-catchers, although newly-acquired non-import Anthony Parker is expected to be activated. The roster-juggling on defence that will allow B.C. to start Micah Awe at middle linebacker will likely cost Dyshawn Davis his roster spot… Import receiver Javontee Herndon, who has been out of football for more than a year, lasted only one day with the Lions. Herndon had already signed a contract to play in the Alliance of American Football and the CFL plans to honour deals signed in the proposed new league. That move was a reprieve for Canadian receiver Will Watson, who regained a practice roster slot a day after it was taken away.


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.