Lions must protect multi-million dollar investment to generate returns

Mike Reilly’s return to Edmonton was largely a forgettable one for the franchise quarterback.

Based on the first offensive drive for B.C., it seemed as though the 34-year-old was going to lead the Lions up and down the field with a fierce offensive attack.

But following an 11-play touchdown drive which finished with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Lemar Durant, the Lions offence was declawed. Reilly ended the game completing just over 50 per cent of his passes for only 149 yards through the air, over 100 of which came in the opening half.

“It’s not physical, I know that. It’s mental in the sense of when things are not going your way, how do you respond as a team? Do you tighten up? And play together? And believe that somebody’s going to make a play? But also believe that you’re going to make a play? You gotta do your job but not do so much because you don’t believe in the other guy now you’re screwing your own job up,” Reilly said with a cut under his eye.

“It’s a trust thing. These are hard lessons, but sometimes they’re necessary lessons, so I believe that our guys are going to learn from it. It’s not going to get done unless we do it together.”

The Eskimos were down two all-star defenders and still managed to rattle Reilly by sacking him seven times. Five different players put Reilly on the turf as the Lions’ offensive line issues became glaringly evident. The big boys up front must protect the highest paid player in the league or the investment isn’t going to bring back a worthwhile return.

One of the league’s most recognizable players, Reilly has won two Grey Cups and the 2017 CFL Most Outstanding Player award. He signed a fresh four-year contract with the Lions in February that is due to pay him $2.9 million over the term of the deal. A strong relationship with B.C. general manager Ed Hervey played a factor in his decision to sign with the Lions.

Hervey envisioned a potent offence led by Reilly who has thrown for over 5,500 yards in three straight CFL seasons, but B.C. has started the year searching for a rhythm on offence. Through two games — a small sample size, granted — Reilly’s 473 passing yards and three interceptions to two touchdowns are unexpectedly poor numbers.

Reilly doesn’t have one familiar target in the receiving corps. New stars emerged annually in Edmonton, always giving the quarterback a go-to option. He doesn’t yet have one with the Lions. More reps in practices and games will improve his relationship with the likes of Duron Carter, Bryan Burnham and the rest of the club’s pass catchers.

For the Lions to be successful with its current roster, Reilly has to be insulated and given the required time to develop a rapport with his targets. Otherwise the teeth will be taken out of the Lions’ offence.

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