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THE MOJ: Lions assembling the pieces for what might be a big year

Hosting the Grey Cup, home game in Victoria among reasons this could be a season to remember
B.C. Lions defensive backs get put through the paces during training camp in Kamloops, B.C. The Lions open the season in Toronto on June 9. Steven Chang, B.C. Lions photo

It’s going to be a busy year for the B.C. Lions organization.

Never mind the grind of the 18-game CFL regular season and trying to dethrone the Winnipeg Blue Bombers as the best in the west but there’s the Touchdown Pacific celebration in Victoria which will feature a visit from the Ottawa RedBlacks on Aug. 31 and the Grey Cup game itself which Vancouver is hosting on Nov. 17 which the Lions desperately want to be a part of.

But it all starts with training camp at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, which started on May 8 and wraps up on May 29.

In talking with Lions Head Coach Rick Campbell, the team is extremely happy with the level of its depth – especially when it comes to national players – and the club is looking at making some tough decisions in which some good players will be let go.

So to get you up to speed on the team, we are providing you with this training camp primer.


QUARTERBACK – Vernon Adams Jr. returns to build on a season in which he threw for 4,769 yards and 31 touchdowns. He’ll be backed up by Dakota Prukop, who was brought in from Winnipeg, and ex-Roughrider Jake Dolegala. Prukop will be the team’s short-yardage specialist and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if there are certain packages which feature him behind the center as was done in Winnipeg.

RUNNING BACK – The Lions are hoping ex-Alouette William Stanback can ignite the Lions woeful run game which ranked last in the CFL last season with 1,400 yards. The good news is that Stanback has come to camp in great shape and is highly motivated to prove that Montreal made a mistake in letting him go.

He’ll probably be backed up by Taquan Mizzell, who led the Lions in rushing last year with 773 yards. In a perfect world, the Lions would love to have both in the lineup but the ratio and salary cap implications will probably preclude that. Veteran David Mackie returns at fullback and also will contribute as a special teams ace.

WIDE RECEIVER – You think that the departures of Dominique Rhymes and Lucky Whitehead would make this an area of concern but it’s not. Last year’s breakout star in Alexander Hollins (1,173 yards, 9 TD’s) returns to lead this group and will be supported by nationals Jevon Cottoy (807 yards, 4 TD’s) and Justin McInnis (690 yards, 5 TD’s). There are two spots up for grabs but you can pretty much pencil in sophomore Ayden Eberhardt for one. Eberhardt isn’t a burner but he will catch most everything thrown his way.

With Keon Hatcher (1,226 yards, 6 TD’s) still rehabbing his Achilles injury, look for ex-Philadelphia Eagle Travis Fulgham to get an opportunity. Fulgham had a supernova season with the Eagles in 2020 in which he was one of the top receivers in the NFL for the first half of the season but then fell off the map. If he can regain any of that form, the Lions will be in great shape. Also keep on eye on newcomers Stanley Berryhill and Eddie Lee. Kamloops Broncos junior Colton Meikel has also impressed people with his size (6-4, 220) and athleticism.

OFFENSIVE LINE – This is a work in progress as the team could go with three imports but that is yet to be determined. You can pencil in veteran imports Jarell Broxton at left tackle and Kent Perkins at right tackle while nationals Michael Couture with Sukh Chungh will man the center and right guard spots respectively.

From there, things get a little murky. Nationals David Knevel and Andrew Peirson will battle it out for the left guard spot with Knevel being the frontrunner. If the team decides to go with three imports, look for Chris Schleuger, who spent last season on the practice roster, to start at left guard. 2024 first round CFL Draft pick George Una has looked good early on and will contribute at some point. Keep an eye on Jacky Chen, a 6-6, 310 behemoth who passes the eyeball test but needs to be coached up on technique after playing at small school Pace University.


DEFENSIVE LINE – This will be a revamped group in 2024 with the goal of being stouter against the run, and in turn, reducing the number of packages the team has to run to compensate for that lack of stoutness. Mathieu Betts, who was the CFL’s MOP on defense last season, signed with Detroit of the NFL while veterans Woody Baron and David Menard were released. Vancouver College grad Christian Covington returns home after spending nine seasons in the NFL. Covington has come to camp looking rejuvenated and will play the three-technique tackle while Josh Banks returns to play the one-technique.

Pete Robertson was signed away from Saskatchewan and will provide solid two-way play at one end while Sione Teuhema returns to do the same at the other end. The rotation will include global Tibo Debaillie and second-year man Marcus Moore, who looks ready to make a splash after getting a little playing time last season. Nationals Francis Bemy, Josh Archibald, and Daniel Joseph will also be part of the rotation as well as import Amir Siddiqi. University of Saskatchewan product Nathan Cherry, who impressed as a rookie last season, continues to rehab a torn ACL and won’t be ready for the start of the season.

LINEBACKERS – When Ben Hladik suffered an ankle injury in the Western semi-final game against Calgary last year, Josh Woods slid over from his outside spot to the inside and was such a dominant force that the club has made the move a permanent one. That leaves Hladik on the outside battling for playing time with veteran Bo Lokombo.

The team was hoping that national Ryder Varga would be ready to take the next step after an impressive rookie campaign but he’ll start camp on the sidelines due to an illness and will have to play catchup while fellow national Isaiah Messam and global Max Rouyer will provide special teams depth. Newcomer Ayinde ‘Ace’ Eley, a 6-3, 233-pound specimen from Georgia Tech has made himself noticeable early.

SECONDARY – The only question mark in the secondary is who fills in for veteran T.J. Lee while he rehabs from his Achilles injury. Lee is hoping to be ready to go after he serves his time on the six-game injured list so who ever wins the job might have a small window to impress. There will be plenty of competition in camp but newcomer Ronald Kent, a Central Michigan product, was running with the first team in the first couple of practices.

The cornerback spots will feature a pair of veterans in Gary Peters, who is coming off an all-star season, and Ciante Evans, who was signed as a free agent after leaving Montreal. Marcus Sayles will suit up at one half with Adrian Greene starting at safety while Manny Rugamba will be the starter at nickel again. Keep an eye on nationals Patrice Rene, a special teams baller who might take his game to the next level, and Cristophe Beaulieu, a third-round draft pick out of Laval who could contribute as a rookie.

SPECIAL TEAMS - All-Star kicker Sean Whyte returns for his 18th CFL season and will handle place kicking duties while veteran Stefan Flintoft will take care of the kickoffs and punts. The long-snapping situation bears watching as incumbent Riley Pickett will be pushed by ex-San Francisco 49er Kyle Nelson. The 37-year-old Nelson is the son of long-time CFL coach Mark Nelson and spent the last dozen seasons in the NFL. Although Nelson has an advantage in being able to contribute as a receiver in a pinch, the 26-year-old Pickett has youth on his side. The return game will once again be handled by Terry Williams.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.

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