Over or under: B.C. Lions rife with questions despite heavy 2024 win projection

Photo courtesy: Tiffany Luke /B.C. Lions

For the B.C. Lions, it has all been building up to this moment.

In the three years since Amar Doman took ownership of the club, the team has carefully executed a strategy to return themselves to relevance off the field and contention on it. After two consecutive near misses in the Western Final, this is their moment to get over the hump and break a 12-year Grey Cup drought on home soil.

But before this squad has a chance to etch their name in history, they first have to get through the regular season. After notching 12 wins in each of the last two campaigns, the Lions’ 2024 odds are set at once again.

While the second-highest over/under in the league is well-deserved for a club certain to be in contention for the West Division crown, this B.C. unit has far more questions entering the season than they did a year ago. Sure, quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. remains at the helm as a potential M.O.P. favourite, but the roster around him is missing some significant names.

Former all-star receivers Dominique Rhymes and Lucky Whitehead were given their walking papers, while burgeoning superstar Keon Hatcher will be out until at least Labour Day with a torn Achilles. That leaves gaping voids in what was once unanimously regarded as the best-receiving corps in the league.

The team will be forced to demand even more from 2023 surprise Justin McInnis as they move permanently to two Canadian receivers, while a pair of unfamiliar Americans attempt to cement themselves. Second-year man Ayden Eberhardt will have big shoes to fill after catching five passes for 69 yards in two games last year. Meanwhile, CFL newcomer Travis Fulgham, who once led the Philadelphia Eagles in receiving yards, will look to prove his game translates up north.

The defence will have no less uncertainty, as a substantial percentage of the pass rush walked out the door when reigning Most Outstanding Defensive Player Mathieu Betts signed in Detroit. Woody Baron and David Menard are also gone from the defensive line rotation, while there will be four new starters in the secondary due to the injury to T.J. Lee and the departures of Marcus Sayles, Jalon Edwards-Cooper, and Quincy Mauger. Those fresh faces will include a pair of raw rookies in Ronald Kent Jr. and Jordan Perryman, as well as veteran addition Ciante Evans and Canadian safety Adrian Greene.

Still, the Lions believe they are a better overall unit this year thanks to a shift of philosophy. Free agent signee Pete Robertson will help replace some of Betts’ sack production, but the focus has been inside where local NFL veteran Christian Covington will help to finally plug gaps in the running game. Sick of being bulldozed by Winnipeg, size inside has been made paramount and a full-time starting role for breakout candidate Josh Woods at middle linebacker will make a difference as well.

The mirror image is true on the other side of the ball, where balance is the motto this season. Bruising running back William Stanback will be given every opportunity to recapture his all-star glory after joining the team in free agency, taking pressure off an average offensive line and helping keep VA fresh. After neglecting the ground game in favour of a high-octane aerial attack, B.C. is finally bending to the wisdom of the crowd.

Those moves have been made with playoff football in mind but they may not be enough to compensate for all the losses in the regular season, especially in a year where Saskatchewan is poised to improve dramatically and Edmonton should at least make strides. The Vegas oddsmakers have set this year’s line wisely, though I’d still be inclined to take the over for a couple of reasons.

For one, the Lions still have some of the best Canadian talent in the league and possess great flexibility in how they can deploy their ratio. That is a testament to the tremendous scouting work of co-general manager Neil McEvoy and his staff of Rob Ralph, Ryan Rigmaiden, and Jim Jauch — who have also managed to bring in an intriguing crop of young Americans to prompt so many high-profile releases.

Plenty of notable names will be back beyond the quarterback position as well, including all-star receiver Alexander Hollins, 100-tackle Canadian linebacker Ben Hladik, and the league’s premier shutdown cornerback in Garry Peters. Head coach Rick Campbell has also managed to retain the two most exciting young coordinators in the league for another season. Offensive play-caller Jordan Maksymic has proven to be an innovative mind capable of maximizing all the pieces at his disposal, while defensive guru Ryan Phillips gives his unit the freedom and confidence to make plays.

Finally, the Lions have a great schedule devoid of any short weeks and their only stretch of three consecutive road games is interrupted by a bye week. Their two byes also come evenly spaced after the seven and 14 game marks, ensuring they will never go too long without a chance to heal.

Given those factors and the team’s recent track record, I’d cautiously put my money on the over for a team with more to play for this year than any other in the league.

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.