OPINION: There’s no panic among the Lions yet, but there is a sense of urgency. Another loss and they could be scrambling at 0-3 to find believers.CALGARY — Considering the width and breadth of their early-season inadequacies, the B.C. Lions face a number of challenges as they prepare for Saturday’s meeting with the defending Grey Cup champions.The Lions, for starters, have given up more touchdowns than any other CFL team and are dead last in net offence. Just so you know, that’s not a winning combination, which might explain why the Leos are winless after two games.But their issues also run more deeply. They haven’t been able to stop the run — Winnipeg’s Andrew Harris went for 148 yards in their season-opening loss, Edmonton’s C.J. Gable ran for 111 yards in the loss to the Eskimos last week — and haven’t been able to run the ball themselves. Their leading rusher, John White, is averaging 2.3 yards per carry.Franchise quarterback Mike Reilly has been sacked eight times — the most in the CFL and twice as many as the next highest total — and the Lions have been unable to generate any consistent pressure on the opposition quarterback.They’re also eighth in turnover ratio at minus-4; seventh in penalty yards and eighth in points allowed. Admittedly, the sample size is small but, after two straight losses, the Lions’ problems are so comprehensive and numerous they’re almost existential in nature, and that makes Saturday’s game at McMahon Stadium a critical test.“It’s challenging when you have a team that has so many new pieces,” Reilly said in a philosophical moment. “You don’t have that collective experience. That’s what we’re building. You want to do it the right way so you have sustained success but it doesn’t happen overnight, either.“It’s not an excuse but it takes time. You have to find a way to expedite the process.”
The B.C. Lions have to find a way to limit their miscues if they don’t want to fall to 0-3 after a stern test against Calgary on Saturday.
JASON FRANSON /
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Great. But how do you do that when your players barely know each other’s first names?The Lions’ official position is their early-season woes have everything to do with the newness of their team and system and not the individual abilities of their players. They’d better hope that’s the case because if they guessed wrong about some of their off-season acquisitions this is going to be a long and difficult campaign.But there’s also a track record there that should ease some of the concerns. Reilly is a hall of fame-calibre quarterback. The offensive line is huge and experienced. There are weapons at the skill positions.Defensively, co-ordinator Rich Stubler has been coaching and winning in the CFL as long as the rouge has been in the game, and head coach DeVone Claybrooks made his bones as Calgary’s defensive co-ordinator.Add it all up and there’s no panic among the Lions yet, but there is a sense of urgency.“As a team you have to feel it,” said Reilly. “It can feel like a mountain to get there the first time, but when you have that success things become a lot clearer. You go, ‘This is what happens when that happens.’”So what has to happen for the Lions against the Stamps, who’ve owned them for the last decade?The focus on offence will be attempting to find balance, which means running the ball successfully. In the loss to Winnipeg the Lions rushed the ball four times. Against Edmonton, they were all the way up to 15 but White produced just 24 yards on eight carries.“It doesn’t take a hall of fame coach to understand we have to protect the quarterback and run the ball,” Claybrooks said.As it happens, the Lions are going into this game with a revamped offensive line. Brett Boyko is out with an ankle injury, which means David Foucault moves to Boyko’s right tackle position, Hunter Steward moves from centre to guard and Jean-Simon Roy, who was picked up from Edmonton’s practice roster earlier this month, takes over at centre.The defence will also feature a new face in safety Branden Dozier, who played for Stubler in Montreal last season and assumes a lot of the unit’s organizational responsibilities.“That position is a specialty position for us,” Stubler said. “It’s the quarterback of the defence. A lot of teams take their worst player and say, ‘Line up 25 yards deep and cover the goalposts.’ I’ve never understood that. I’ve always tried to have a great player there.”Stubler was asked if the defence is getting closer to grasping his system.“We see a lot of great signs right now,” he said. “We’re close. We’re making some mistakes that are sometimes fatal, but we’re at the point where we’re expecting better things.”He’s not the only one.Now, if all that wasn’t enough, the Lions will be trying to get off the schneid against a Stampeders team that lost its opener against Ottawa two weeks ago and will approach this affair with a surly disposition.The game also marks a homecoming for Claybrooks, who spent 10 years with the Stamps as a player, position coach and defensive co-ordinator. But the big man wasn’t exactly misty at the prospect of facing his former team.“I’m past it,” he said. “A lot of the weirdness went out of it in the preseason game. I know how Huf (Stamps GM John Hufnagel) and (head coach) Dave (Dickenson) are. We’re all really good friends, but once the whistle blows they want to beat the snot out of our guys and our guys want to beat the snot out of them.”All things considered, that might be a good place to firstname.lastname@example.org/willesonsportsNEXT GAMESaturdayB.C. Lions vs. Calgary Stampeders4 p.m., McMahon Stadium, TV: TSN 1, 3; Radio: TSN 1040 AMCLICK HERE to report a typo.Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email email@example.com