Lions’ QB Vernon Adams Jr. at ‘top of the list’ of players poised for second-year leap: Rick Campbell

Photo courtesy: Jeff Vinnick/B.C. Lions

The B.C. Lions are focused on allowing players to grow within the organization and that extends to the quarterback position.

Speaking to the media in the lead-up to training camp, head coach and general manager Rick Campbell pointed to veteran signal-caller Vernon Adams Jr. as the player on the roster with the greatest capacity for improvement in his second season as a Lion.

“I even think about our quarterback Vernon Adams, as far as a guy that hopefully can be operating [at a higher level],” Campbell said. “It was a tall task what was asked of him last year, to come in here and figure everything out — our players, our coaches, the playbook, all those things. You hope a guy like him can come in here and be more comfortable with the situation. He would be at the top of the list as a guy that can come in here and do his thing.”

Adams was acquired via trade from the Montreal Alouettes on Aug. 31, 2022 after then-starting quarterback Nathan Rourke suffered what was believed to be a season-ending injury to his foot. He threw for 1,504 yards, six touchdowns, and one interception with the Lions and went 4-2 as a starter, helping the team finish second in the West Division.

Rourke eventually returned for the playoffs but has since signed with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. The Lions quickly named Adams as their new starter and inked him to a contract extension through 2024 that will pay him up to $350,000 with incentives, solidifying his place as the new face of the franchise.

While the 30-year-old’s steady play last season helped keep B.C. afloat, the offence was considerably less efficient with Adams at the helm than with his Canadian counterpart. With a full offseason for offensive coordinator Jordan Maksymic to tailor his system to the quarterback’s strengths, that is expected to change. However, Campbell downplayed just how much tweaking would be done to the Lions’ scheme.

“It’s not drastic but that’s part of the skill of coaching, is to put your players in a position to succeed. The quarterback obviously gets highlighted, that’s the guy with the ball in his hands every time and you want to play to his strengths, but it’s really about all our team, from our receivers to whoever it is,” he said.

“I think that’s what that continuity I’m talking about is. If the coaches know the players and the players know the coaches, hopefully you can get to that point where you’re operating at a higher level because you are tailoring things to people’s strengths.”

Adams has thrown for 8,492 yards, 49 touchdowns, and 27 interceptions over 75 career CFL games as a member of the Montreal Alouettes, Saskatchewan Roughriders, and Lions. The dual-threat passer has also recorded 217 carries for 1,107 yards and 20 touchdowns.

After Rourke established a record-setting pace prior to his injury in 2022, his successor will have large shoes to fill. Campbell is quick to point out that the same was true last offseason when the unproven second-year pivot took over for future Hall of Famer Michael Reilly.

“I remember taking more questions than I could ever remember last year about why are you starting this guy, can he do it, does he have the ability, all those things. That’s part of the fun of it, is that we went from a guy that people were very skeptical about to getting an NFL opportunity,” he noted.

“We’ll have to fill that in but our quarterback situation you can very much argue is much more known and stable this year with the three veteran guys that we have than what we were going into last year. With the loss of a guy like Nathan, we’re trying to mitigate that not only through VA but with Dominique Davis and Dane Evans, all that have the experience of guys that know what it takes to play quarterback in the CFL.”

The Lions traded with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to acquire their former starter Evans in February, bringing in the 29-year-old to serve as the primary backup. The 33-year-old Davis was signed as a free agent after playing in Montreal last season, another piece of valuable insurance.

That seasoned quarterback room will prevent the chaos that occurred last season when Rourke went down, but it will be Adams that controls the Lions’ fate with his ability to take the next step.

“That comes down to investing in people,” Campbell said. “I think we made a commitment to that a couple of years back, from coaches to players, of letting people come in and develop.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.