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It’s a problem BC Lions coach Mike Benevides doesn’t mind trying to solve.
How does he work Solomon Elimimian back into his team’s lineup without disrupting the harmony of one of the best defences in the CFL?
The return of the hard-hitting middle linebacker after a failed attempt to land a job down south gives the defending Grey Cup champions some interesting options but potentially could create some problems.
The Lions haven’t struggled in Elimimian’s absence. BC’s record is the best in the CFL. The Lions’ defence leads the league in fewest points allowed (204), yards allowed passing (2,601) and rushing yards allowed (754).
Since winning the middle linebacker’s job in training camp Adam Bighill has shown he’s more than capable of filling Elimimian’s role. Heading into this weekend’s games he’s tied for fourth in the league with 61 tackles. He also recovered a fumble that ended the Toronto Argonauts’ final drive in a 28-23 BC victory Saturday at BC Place.
It’s hard to rationalize any scenario that sees a healthy Bighill sitting down to make room for Elimimian.
The same thoughts might have been swirling around Elimimian’s mind as he watched last weekend’s game from the sidelines in street clothes. He isn’t even sure what the Lions’ coaching staff has in mind.
“That’s their decision where they see me at,” said the 25-year-old native of Calabar, Nigeria. “All I can do is prepare and whenever my number is called I will go there and do my job.
“I’m not concerned about what my role is. I’m concerned when I do get in…doing the best I can.”
There are concerns about a hamstring injury Elimimian suffered. He didn’t practice with the Lions on Tuesday and is questionable to play in Saturday’s game against the Edmonton Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium.
Elimimian, who was the CFL rookie of the year in 2010 and an all-star last season, is considered one of the hardest hitters in the league. He signed with the Minnesota Vikings over the winter but was cut in the pre-season. He later joined the Cleveland Brown’s practise roster but was quickly released.
Elimimian refused to say if he’s totally abandoned his desire to play in the NFL.
“I’m not thinking that far,” he said.
On paper not much separates Bighill from Elimimian. Bighill is two inches shorter than the six-foot Elimimian, but he’s a couple of pounds heavier and two years younger.
Benevides and defensive co-ordinator Rich Stubler can get creative with their linebackers.
They can use Bighill and Elimimian in a rotation. Benevides even sees having both players on the field at the same time.
“There are different things we can do, there’s different ways we can get them on the field,” Benevides said. “We’ll just have to see how it goes step by step.”
Bighill said it’s the coach’s decision.
“Coaches are smart,” he said. “They know what the best thing to do for the team is.
“Whatever they decide…is what I have to roll with.”
Elimimian and Bighill are friends off the field.
“Me and Adam are real close,” said Elimimian. “I don’t think you realize how close we are.
“Last year he was the closest on the team to me. We talked pretty much throughout this whole year. We exchanged text messages, conversations. I am happy for him. I sincerely am. I have never been one that feels my success is dictated on someone else’s failures. I hope Adam continues to have a great season.”
Elimimian repeated several times how happy he is to be back with the Lions and excited about playing football again. He called his time with the Vikings an “experience” but “that’s in the past.”
“A lot of people say it’s a disappointment,” he said. “You can look at it as a disappointment but the fact is there’s a team that wants me back and appreciates me.
“Some guys get cut, they have no job.”
Elimimian also flatly denied any suggestion he had wanted to play for another CFL team.
“That’s not true,” he said. “It’s funny how some of these rumours go around. I’m happy to be here.”
For all his positive talk Elimimian, who becomes a free agent after this season, was vague when asked if he sees himself in a Lions’ uniform next year.
“I don’t look past this week,” he said. “I can’t control the future. I don’t predict the future.
“In terms of saying what is going to happen next week, or next year, it’s beyond me. I’m just happy to be here, sincerely.”
Sometimes a returning player can be a distraction, but Elimimian’s teammates seem ready to welcome him back.
“The foundation that was laid for our Grey Cup season last year includes Solomon,” said defensive end Keron Williams, who leads the league with seven quarterback sacks.
“I don’t think Solomon being here would hurt our team at all. He’s a great player, a big-time hitter. I’m not a coach but the more the merrier I think.”
Considering Elimimian hasn’t been drawing a football paycheque he probably is happy to have a job again. On the field he most likely will play with the same kamikaze style he showed last year.
What BC management might question is how long will Elimimian remain committed to the Lions.
“I never fault nobody for taking a chance at the NFL,” he said. “It’s like people who have everyday jobs. Nobody wants to be stagnant. Everyone has dreams and everybody wants to try something different. Some people are content where they are at.”