LIONS LOOK TO SEND STAMPS A MESSAGE IN PRE-SEASON FINALE
The BC Lions and Calgary Stampeders will try and show each other as little as possible on Friday night, as they finish off pre-season with a preview of their Week 1 matchup at BC Place.
It’s not often you face the same squad in the final exhibition game and Week 1 of the regular season, but that’s the scenario these West Division foes are facing a week before their June 25 matchup when they kick things off for real.
Still, while the usual questions come up about schemes and not wanting to reveal any secrets, Lions receiver Marco Iannuzzi sees it as less of a dilemma than an opportunity.
“We have to send a message to Calgary,” Iannuzzi told BCLions.com. “We want to show them we’ve had a productive camp and that we’re here to smash heads.”
The Lions and Head Coach and General Manager Wally Buono maintain camp has been very productive thus far, but there’s still work to be done. That’s especially the case for a few positions in particular, where Buono must figure out who’s going to start on top of who will make his 46-man roster when cut-down day arrives Sunday.
Jonathon Jennings and Travis Lulay will get the bulk of the playing time at quarterback, Buono acknowledged going into Friday’s game, but while Jennings is the projected regular season starter, the biggest question on either side of the ball for BC comes at the running back position.
Former Roughrider Anthony Allen will dress after missing the Lions’ pre-season-opening 28-16 win over Saskatchewan, meaning he’ll get the chance to battle with fellow rushers Jeremiah Johnson and rookie J.C. Coleman for the starting job.
“I’m just trying to show that I am consistent and can take what I do on the practice field and take that to the game field and help the team out,” said Allen.
The third-year veteran who rushed for 930 yards and five touchdowns in his rookie season in 2014 finds himself playing catch-up after missing some time and watching his closest competitor Johnson average 7.5 yards per carry last weekend.
But as he returns from a knee injury, Allen says he’s just happy to have a chance and won’t put any extra pressure on himself.
“When you put extra pressure on yourself then you’re trying to overcompensate,” said Allen. “I have never worn orange before so it’s definitely exciting to wear a new colour. I’m so excited that I hope I don’t pull a hamstring trying to run so fast.”
The diminutive speedster Coleman is the dark horse in the competition and has also put in a strong camp so far, including a strong pre-season effort with 32 yards on seven carries.
While all eyes will be on the running backs, Buono will continue to keep a close eye on his re-structured O-line. The Lions moved some pieces around this training camp, including franchise tackle Jovan Olafioye to the left side where he’ll protect either Jennings or Lulay’s blindside.
Cody Husband, meanwhile, continues to take reps at centre, while 2016 fifth overall pick Charles Vaillancourt is listed as the starting right guard.
“Playing different positions is something I’ve always had to do,” said Husband, previously a guard. “It’s just about making sure I know the offence more than I usually do.
“It’s been nice because we’ve had mostly the same guys throughout the whole camp so we’ve been able to mesh and learn together.”
The Lions will line up almost all of their projected Week 1 starters and so will the visiting Stampeders, meaning for at least a short time Friday’s matchup will closely resemble the following week’s affair. How long they’ll remain in the game is another question, but if the Stampeders take the same approach as last week then their starters won’t play long.
The Stamps turned the ball over six times and failed to score an offensive touchdown in a 23-13 loss to the Eskimos last weekend at McMahon Stadium, but the result isn’t indicative of how Calgary’s starters played.
Bo Levi Mitchell played only one drive and went 5-of-6 through the air for 56 yards, showing good chemistry with Joe West and capping the drive off with one of two Rene Paredes field goals on the night.
Head Coach Dave Dickenson said the effort was strong but there were too many mistakes from the Stampeders’ group as a whole, but it was no discredit to the starters.
Shane Bergman returns to action as the Stamps’ left guard while rookie Roman Grozman continues to get reps at centre in the absence of Pierre Lavertu, but other than that it’s mostly status quo for Dickenson’s bunch. It sounds like Lavertu is likely to return for the opener but cannot suit up on Friday night.
“We’ve got a pretty healthy group now,” said Dickenson in an interview with Stampeders.com. “They know that we made some cuts but there are still a few spots that are competing and certainly a lot of starting spots up for competing jobs, so the urgency hopefully will be there and we’ll play well.”
Recent roster additions in quarterback G.J. Kinne and receiver Josh Harper are expected to make their CFL debuts after signing with the Stamps this week. Kinne has spent time with the NFL’s New York Jets, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. Harper was with the Stamps at the start of camp before his release in late May.
Veteran fullback Rob Cote is also expected to get some work for the first time in 2016 after sitting out last weekend’s game at McMahon.
While the Stampeders aim for their first pre-season win, the Lions hope to improve to 2-0 in the pre-season after last week’s road win. T.J. Lee, Ronnie Yell and rookie Anthony Thompson each recorded an interception for the Lions, while Shawn Gore hauled in the team’s lone touchdown on the evening.
The Stampeders ended BC’s 2015 campaign with a playoff win at McMahon Stadium in the Western Semi-Final with a 35-9 victory. The Stamps didn’t surrender a touchdown while the defence didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher or 100-yard receiver in the game.
Having also faced off in pre-season action the last two years, Calgary claimed a 20-6 victory at McMahon in 2015 while the Lions held their ground in the Den in 2014 with a winning edge of 37-13.
The Stampeders will head back home for a short time before quickly returning to Vancouver, as the teams will do it all again one June 25 with a whole lot more riding on it.