May 18, 2017

Player Evaluation | A 24/7 Deal

24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s one of the more accurate terms to describe the world of pro football. It is especially true when it comes to evaluating young talent. Although BC Lions brass remains ecstatic over the nine Canadian prospects they selected on May 7th, preparation and scouting for next year’s draft has already begun.

Quality control and assistant running backs coach Mike Lionello got a taste of next year’s crop after attending the East-West Bowl practices at Laval University’s Stade Telus last week.

IMG_7198

He was the only one willing to get soaking wet due to his excitement.

“It was raining and cold on Wednesday morning and there was no other scouts around,” Lionello recalled.

“I looked around and wondered where everyone was and then I looked up and saw them all in the press box. I was excited and a little new apparently.”

The 26-year old may still be a little raw but he no doubt understands how valuable the scouting process can be, even one year ahead of potentially seeing some of these players in orange.

“It was really good, a new experience for me,” Lionello said of the trip back east.

“It was great to talk to other teams and it being right after the draft, everybody was talking about it. ‘Who are you going to take here’ or ‘you got good value in this guy.’ It’s pretty cool.”

The annual East-West game pits the following year’s top draft prospects against each other and also allows coaches and scouts to get a leg up on starting their next draft board.

“It’s great to get a first look,” Lionello explained.

“You already have an idea of who can play, who has the body type to play and who doesn’t. You can start that weeding out process really early.”

A few examples of players who may be high in the early rankings are a couple of Laval products that were right at home in running back Chris Amoah and receiver Tyrone Pierre.Lionello Hero

The UBC contingent was made up of wide receiver Will Watson, offensive lineman Dakoda Shepley, and defensive backs AJ Blackwell and William Maxwell.

“You’re looking for athleticism and speed,” Lionello said. “Those Laval guys are very good and will be high on everyone’s board next year.”

“It’s also a good chance to meet with these kids because you don’t know who they are. It’s good to find out who the players are and who might have a future.”

“Just finishing the playbook,” Lionello said about his current task.

Josh Harris (running back) just emailed me asking if he can have a look at it. So we’re just putting the finishing touches on that. Last year everything was new for me from scripts to systems to practices. Now I have all the templates from last year so it is just about building and improving.”

Lionello’s main pracScreen Shot 2017-05-16 at 11.38.33 AMtice duties include running the “scout team” which is designed to mimic the schemes of every opponent they will face during the season. This year he has added the running back drills to his job description.

With Jeremiah Johnson leading the way they look to once again be in good hands in the backfield. Harris, a former member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, could fill the role Anthony Allen provided last season and give Johnson the odd game off.

“Last year I was focused on defence in practices and now I am fully engaged with the running backs. It’s going to be awesome and I am extremely excited. The sky is the limit with this team.”

24/7 indeed. And it feels great as the quest for a 7th Grey Cup is set to begin.

Next Stop For New Prospects: Kamloops

Although none have signed yet, the brass remains hopeful most that all 2017 draftees will be in Kamloops next week. As of this writing none of them were offered contracts by NFL teams. Nathaniel HamlinJunior Luke and Frederic Chagnon all attended a New York Giants mini-camp. Jordan Herdman had workouts in Kansas City and Detroit. Although the idea of losing a high pick to the NFL can be risky, it is also speaks volumes of the quality of new prospects they have in their stable.

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com