June 24, 2013

Lions maintain status quo

Lowell Ullrich
The Province

It was warm. Fewer players were hurt. But the 18-day exercise known as training camp in Kamloops didn’t produce much beyond what they thought would occur several months ago for the BC Lions when they declared their roster Saturday.

The CFL team reached its required 46-man roster limit by releasing six players and while there was an outside chance the Lions might make a surprise move and cut a veteran, they opted to basically keep the lineup they expected before camp. It’s just how they do things.

There were times when it looked as if players like kicker Paul McCallum or returner Tim Brown wouldn’t have been surprised if they were sent home based on their practice work. But every veteran was told they would have a reduced workload and, give or take a bonus here or there, weren’t penalized in the end.

“There were a lot of things done in the offseason so you don’t put a veteran in a bad situation. If you’re going to make a move you do it as early as you can,” coach Mike Benevides said Saturday. “That’s the fair thing to do.”

It certainly will be considered a camp not to forget for four players.

Cornerback Cord Parks took a starting spot in the secondary away from Lin-J Shell. Junior defensive lineman Steven Doege turned a practice roster spot last year into regular work. Guard Kirby Fabien also showed early signs the extra year he spent in CIS play last season will be worth the wait.

And there was also no way in the end the Lions would risk losing rookie returner Korey Williams on waivers before being asked to take a spot on the practice roster. Williams was touted as one of the club’s top offseason recruiting prospects over the winter and performed accordingly in camp, beating out Elvis Akpla for a 46-man roster spot.
“Basically, camp was all about picking the practice roster,” one Lions staffer said.

Players who only got as far as backup spots last year were bypassed for new players who will be asked to shine this year from a similar position.

“As much as it totally sucks when you close the door, give them a business card and tell them you’ll help them any way you can, that’s what this business is all about,” Benevides said about the players he released.

And it was no different last year either. A year after making seven roster moves involving two draft picks, the Lions are in a position to make eight changes, including two draft picks and a junior.

It’s a bit less certain what Benevides will do next, as the process of forming a practice roster requires the consent of those asked to take a spot, and the Lions still have time before firming up who’ll open the season on the road against the Calgary Stampeders.

Injuries to veteran non-import linemen Angus Reid and Dean Valli, who could be placed on the injured list, will determine whether the Lions can activate Canadians S.J. Haidara, who suffered an ankle injury in Friday’s loss to Edmonton, and Matt McGarva. Benevides also didn’t rule out still cutting a veteran either.

But McGarva, Haidara and fellow Canadian college draft pick Matt Albright, who also agreed to take a practice roster spot, form a group who already will benefit from the addition of two additional taxi squad positions given teams this year.

In the past, there’s a good chance their unfortunate roster fate would have been known before training camp started as well.

New faces on the Lions:

DL Steven Doege: Kelowna junior earned his way onto roster, coaches say.
QB Joey Elliott: Three minutes of pre-season game action impressive enough.
K Hugh O’Neill: He’s here, now does the beard stay too?
DE Julius Williams: Free-agent signing likely starts on injured list.
CB Cord Parks: Overtook Lin-J Shell for starting spot in camp.
WR Emmanuel Arceneau Old face coming back – still shaking off NFL rust.
OL Kirby Fabien: Makes 2012 draft now look like a complete success.
WR/ST Korey Williams: Had to make room for him, too.

Offered practice roster spot: OL Kyle Fischer, S Matt McGarva, TB Isi Sofele, OL Matt Albright, DB DeAngelo Smith, DT Edmon McClam, ST Kyle Jones, WR Whitman Tomusiak, QB Chris Hart, WR S.J. Haidara.

Released: WR Elvis Akpla, DT Chris Clady, OL Ben Ossai, LB Glenn Love, K/P Steve Shott, S Bobby Davis.