OPINION: The B.C. Lions, to be sure, have had other problems. But this team was supposed to be built around QB Mike Reilly and until they can keep him vertical, they won’t have a chance.Given everything that’s happened this might be difficult to believe but, coming out of training camp, the B.C. Lions had a clear vision of how their offence would operate.According to this vision, quarterback Mike Reilly would spray balls all over the field as he stood calmly behind an impenetrable offensive line. Yes, the odd run would be thrown in as well as some shorter passes, but the defences would live in perpetual fear because the Lions could strike with a deep ball at any moment.In the parlance of the gridiron, this is known as the vertical passing game. The problem, however, is Reilly has usually been horizontal this season which makes it difficult to throw vertically and that’s led the Lions to alter their philosophy.Well, that and their 1-6 CFL record.“We all had the expectation we’d be able to stretch the ball down the field but we had to re-evaluate what we’re doing,” Reilly said Wednesday at the team’s Surrey practice facility. “I think we’re in a better position now and, hopefully, that will allow us to do some things we thought we’d be able to do at the start of the season.”He paused, then added: “But that remains to be seen.”As do a number of things about this Lions’ year.
Saskatchewan Roughriders’ defensive lineman Charleston Hughes, left, knocks the ball loose from B.C. Lions’ quarterback Mike Reilly during Saturday’s CFL tilt at Mosaic Stadium in Regina. The Lions dropped a 38-25 decision to the rival Roughriders. The teams play again next Saturday.
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After a nightmarish start to their campaign, the Leos are back this week with a new energy, a new focus and, it goes without saying, a new offensive line. This is partly by design but mostly by necessity because that unit has been a chronic disappointment to date. It explains why the Lions are last in the CFL in net offence, eighth in scoring and lead the league in sacks allowed.Saturday’s game with the Tiger-Cats will also represent the seventh version of the offensive line the Leos have put on the field this season — and this time they have to get it right. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. When GM Ed Hervey came out of his boots to sign guard Sukh Chungh the O-line was supposed to be the strength of the team.Eight weeks in, however, the Lions have reduced their margin of error to a whisper and any chance of rescuing their year begins with the men in the trenches.“No doubt, it’s disappointing,” said offensive line coach Bryan Chiu. “It’s been sleepless nights trying to figure this out. You go through your checklist. What are we doing? What am I doing? We just haven’t found the right pieces to the puzzle.”But they’ve been searching, forever searching.
B.C. Lions offensive line coach Bryan Chiu runs a drill during the training camp at Hillside Stadium in Kamloops.
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This week, the Lions’ O-line figures to feature a new right tackle in Justin Renfrow, a new centre in Phillip Norman and a new/old left guard in David Foucault.Renfrow, who was acquired in a trade with Calgary during the bye week, becomes the third player to man the right tackle post this season. Norman, incredibly, becomes the fourth centre. Foucault, who’s bounced back and forth from the right tackle to the left guard spot, returns to the guard position and veteran Hunter Steward will serve as the sixth offensive lineman.If you’re scoring at home, that represents three American starters which is notable because, coming out of training camp, the Lions hoped to start four Canadians on the line. That, in turn, would have given the team a great deal of roster flexibility but, like a lot a number of things, the Lions have been forced to reassess their earlier thinking.“We felt good about it coming out of camp, but you have to admit when you’re wrong and move on,” said offensive coordinator Jarious Jackson. “We’ve admitted we were wrong.”“It’s hard to establish any kind of continuity,” said head coach DeVone Claybrooks. “These two play it this way. These two see it another way. It’s hard to grow and get better when you have different players every week. Hopefully we’ve found our guys.”
The Saskatchewan Roughriders defence strips the ball from BC Lions quarterback Mike Reilly in second half action CFL action at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
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They’re certainly big enough. At 6-4 and 315 pounds, Renfrow is the smallest player in the group. Norman, meanwhile, will be one of the few Americans playing centre in the league and Chungh returns to the lineup after missing two games with a triceps injury. But are they good enough?The Lions invested just under $3 million in Reilly this off-season and thought they’d assembled a unit capable of protecting the star quarterback. All-star left tackle Joel Figueroa returned for a second season, Steward was moved to centre, the highly touted Brett Boyko landed in their laps just before training camp.On paper, it looked like an elite line. On the field it’s been a calamity. Boyko hasn’t lived up to expectations. Steward has bounced around from spot to spot to no great effect. The centre position, which is usually an easy fix, has been a revolving door.The Lions, to be sure, have had other problems. But this team was supposed to be built around Reilly and until they can keep him vertical, they won’t have a chance.“Everything starts up front,” Chiu said. “We have to be better for us to succeed. As a group we haven’t been good enough.”True, but identifying the problem is the easy part. Fixing it will be a lot email@example.comTwitter.com/willesonsportsNEXT GAMESaturdayB.C. Lions vs. Hamilton Tiger-Cats4 p.m., Tim Hortons Field, TV: TSN; 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 firstname.lastname@example.org