There were probably about as many surprises coming out of Saturday’s roster deletions as one could expect with a talented veteran squad like the Lions.
The club said goodbye to Elvis Akpla, Chris Clady, Glenn Love, Steven Shott, Bobby Davis and Ben Ossai and added Isi Sofele, DeAngelo Smith, Kyle Fischer, Matt McGarva and Matt Albright to the preactice roster on Sunday before hitting the field for three days of prep in advance of their season opener in Calgary.
“Training camp was very good to us,” said head coach Mike Benevides. “We had fantastic weather which allowed us the opportunity to take advantage of every single minute on the field. We have a lot of work to do and a lot of improvement is needed in a number of areas, but we’re operating from a solid foundation.”
Despite a 27-22 defeat at the hands of the Eskimos on Friday, there were a number of bright spots.
Second-round draft pick S.J. Haidara was solid on special teams and notched a brilliant 59-yard catch-and-run for a major in the fourth quarter.
“S.J. is one of the most intelligent players I’ve seen at this point in his career,” said special teams coordinator Chuck McMann. “He not only makes plays, he puts himself in position to do so.”
Last year’s first round selection Kirby Fabien is living up to his billing as a potential mainstay at guard while Matt Norman stepped seamlessly into the centre position in place of Angus Reid. Even fifth-round pick Matt Albright showed well at centre in the fourth quarter as Norman moved to guard to give him some reps.
“Matt Norman is a warrior,” says Benevides. “We’re fortunate to have a player of his ability shine so early in his career.”
Third-year kicker Hugh O’Neill looks ready for primetime and it appears he’ll be the go-to guy at least early on with Paul McCallum tweaking a groin in warm-up Friday night.
On defence, halfback Josh Bell looks like he’s ready for everyday duty after a pick in the end zone and some nice open field tackling Friday. Cord Parks also showed well and is fitting in well alongside Ryan Phillips.
“Josh is aggressive and athletic,” notes teammate Dante Marsh. “Once we are completely on the same page we’ll be a dangerous duo. It won’t take long, just takes game speed and reps to develop that non-verbal communication and sixth sense for what the other guy will do.”
On offence, Travis Lulay may have arguably the most gifted group of receivers in the league and Friday’s game was not a true indicator of the fireworks to come when the regular season lands.
“We were executing the offence Friday, but it was a pretty basic game plan in a preseason game with a lot of guys in and out," says Lulay. "We’ll have more to show in Calgary.”
Another bright note was the play of back-up Thomas DeMarco who demonstrated he has a command of the offence and make things happen in tight situations.
“I would have loved to pull that game out and pick up a win, but it’s also a learning experience. A year ago, I wasn’t getting that kind of time on the field so I have to be pleased with my progression and prepare each week like I’m going to be called on to help us win.”
A win is exactly what the Lions will be aiming for when they clash with the Stampeders on Friday in Calgary (TEAM 1040, TSN).
“Last year is not forgotten,” says Benevides. “We have a collective chip on our shoulder and we better play like it.”