August 22, 2013

Game Day: Lions not taking Neiswander lightly

Lowell Ullrich – The Province

It would be like any good position coach such as Mark Washington to guard against the scenario facing the B.C. Lions in tonight’s CFL assignment and talk about overconfidence when facing a quarterback like Josh Neiswander, who is making his first pro start for the Montreal Alouettes.

The defensive backs coach of the Lions brought the usual assortment of verbal motivational aids to go with what little pro game tape is available of their next nemesis to show his veteran position group during meetings Wednesday.

He could have simply mentioned one name: Zach Collaros, who embarrassed the Lions in a win by the Toronto Argonauts less than a month ago in his first pro start. Well, two names: Justin Goltz, who also made his starting debut against the Lions with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 17 days ago.

For some reason, the Lions have quickly become some kind of league lab experiment. Five CFL quarterbacks in the last four weeks will have made three-down debuts, and after tonight’s game (4:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1040) the Lions are about to play against three of them. It’s not as if ex-teammate Mike Reilly of the Edmonton Eskimos, who has played B.C. twice, has years of experience, either.

It’s how Washington’s group reacts to facing a 25-year-old thrower in Neiswander, who has just over two quarters of pro experience, which will help determine the outcome.

It’s also how Washington deals with the situation that could still be of interest around here, too. The Lions assistant has already interviewed for Montreal coaching jobs in each of the past two years, and there remains the potential for another opening if coach/GM Jim Popp doesn’t correct the mistake of his making when he opted for Dan Hawkins.

“I thought it was a little odd,” Washington said of the Als’ choice, who didn’t last five games.

But these days Washington is only studying Neiswander and isn’t afraid of invoking a Collaros reference, nor is anyone else with the Lions.

It started during the first meeting of the practice week led by coach Mike Benevides when the Lions were reminded that what Collaros did in relief of Ricky Ray could be repeated by Neiswander in support of concussed veteran Anthony Calvillo.

It’s not as if a greenhorn import hasn’t come from a U.S. school and surprised a CFL opponent before. Neiswander came to Montreal three years ago from Angelo State in San Angelo, Tex., picking up his MBA faster than he could learn a CFL offence but studying Calvillo at every chance.

The trick now, Neiswander said, is managing expectations.

“I’ve basically watched everything he’s ever done,” Neiswander said Wednesday.

“As a quarterback you tend to get more nervous if you’re not prepared. I’ve always done my best to be prepared. Anything else and it’s a waste of time.

“But I can’t go out there and be A.C. He’s been playing for 20 years. I’ve played two and a half quarters of professional football.”
New teammates say don’t be fooled, however.

“He’s a brainiac, one of the smartest guys I’ve been around,” said Byron Parker, the Lions’ wide-side cornerback last year who has the same job this season with Montreal.

Of course, if Neiswander is underwhelming, Popp says he will go to his backup tonight, the equally-unknown Tyler Marsh, or Troy Smith, the bulletthrowing former Heisman Trophy winner signed only last week by Montreal after an eight-year negotiation list courtship.

There’s even talk the Als would reach out if Calvillo is out for awhile to Adrian McPherson, one of many pivots who gave up trying to outwait the masterful quarterback, who turns 41 years of age Friday. Lineup changes aren’t exactly new lately with the 2-5 Als, who have 17 players on various injured lists.

The approach with some the Lions, however, is to focus on players other than the quarterback. That’s the natural reaction for someone in the same line of work as Washington, who would be a natural head coaching because of his Montreal playing days if Popp doesn’t opt next year for someone like Als defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe, the former SFU and UBC assistant.

“We try to affect how the quarterback makes his decisions, but if you don’t give a receiver to throw to it doesn’t matter,” said Washington. “Even if he’s Joe Montana.”

Now there’s the proper mental imaging the Lions need tonight.