ULLRICH: Lions defence shoulders weight of Lulay loss

On a night when the first reference of the season was registered to the Headhunters of a bygone era with the B.C. Lions, points to ponder after they stood tall long enough for a 32-14 win over the Montreal Alouettes:

Now what?: With 16 new starters on the job Friday since last season, Ed Hervey has been too busy reshaping the Lions to get too wrapped up in little things like the identity of his next head coach or quarterback but on some fronts he continues to receive nuggets that could shape the future.

He might, for example, already been in receipt of enough information to determine how the Lions could look behind centre next season, when Hervey has to decide whether pending free agents Travis Lulay and/or Jon Jennings are the best choice, or roll the dice on others who might be looking for work like, say, well, Mike Reilly.

Durability and productivity would figure to be paramount in the evaluation. The last two weeks could well have changed Hervey’s views.

Jennings has two wins, which are huge in the overall recovery, but he’s hardly been lights out in either game. The fact that Lulay has been unable to finish either of the wins, however, might weigh more heavily. And although the Lions have reason to feel good having won two straight for the first time in 14 months, another shoulder injury Lulay suffered against Montreal Friday can’t make him an automatic recipient of a new contract.

The initial diagnosis, as reported by the Vancouver Sun/Province, is that Lulay has a separated shoulder and will be out 4-6 weeks, which doesn’t leave the Lions with too many games left in the regular season if he is on the sideline with Manny Arceneaux and Solomon Elimimian for that long.

It’s a horrifying thought, almost as much of a downer as knowing the Lions might have to make a decision about the direction of their offence with no further sampling from the player who means more to them offensively than any other.

Though it has been written here before, after getting knocked out of a game for the fourth time in five seasons in Montreal, it’s at least fair to wonder if Lulay will ever get another chance to face the Alouettes for the Lions again.

Getting defensive: Yes, it’s true…when four of your 12 wins the last two seasons have come against the truly horrible Als it’s not always easy to maintain perspective. How bad are the Alouettes? Well, let’s just say the pre-game locker room visit by owner Bob Wetenhall didn’t exactly have the desired effect. A rally-cry visit by Wetenhall is about as rare a sighting in Montreal as a David Braley visit is to the Lions.

To lose to a quarterback in Antonio Pipken, who threw for 95 yards passing in going the distance for Montreal, would have been a sheer travesty. That door you just heard opening was the one Johnny Manziel is about to walk though next week for Montreal.

“I played terrible,” Pipken told Montreal reporters after the game. “You can’t get any worse than playing terrible.” Hey, at least he’s honest. And that trade of Pipken by the Lions as part of the David Foucault deal is starting to look much better.

But the post-game discussion on TSN 1040 after the Lions win included the opinion of one caller who steadfastly was convinced their defence is good enough to win a Grey Cup this year, and yes, invoked a comparison to the Headhunters, the 1964 defensive front of Dick Fouts, Mike Cacic, Mike Martin and Gus Kaspasis, for those with long memories.

Delusional? As long as the offence remains so uneven it’s hard to think on those terms, but on sheer numbers defensively the caller has at least might have a case.

In the last two games, the Lions have has seven interceptions and 13 sacks and as they got on the plane to go home Friday they were tied or had the outright CFL lead in both categories on the season after being well down the list less than a month ago. Scoring 37 of 56 points off turnovers the last two games isn’t sustainable, but it is reminiscent of some of the Lions’ best defences in the Wally Buono era over a similar stretch.

The decision by defensive coordinator Mark Washington to play more of a pressure game, thanks to the insertion of veteran Shawn Lemon and rookie Claudell Louis up front, plus more man-to-man coverage behind in the secondary is playing massive dividends.

Again, it doesn’t matter what the Lions do against Montreal and Ottawa if they can’t do the same thing against the front-runners in their own division. But on a night when Barron Miles and Brent Johnson were enshrined into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in Hamilton, the Lions honoured them quite nicely.

“We didn’t get the results against Toronto and Ottawa when we had one –possession losses but we’re getting the results because we’re putting in extra time,” defensive back T.J. Lee told 1040 after his pick six finally shut the door on Montreal. “We’re only getting stronger.” Hard to argue.

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.