February 14, 2017

Lions Lock Up Jeremiah Through ’18

BC Lions running back Jeremiah Johnson (24) celebrates his touchdown run during the first half of CFL action in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday, November 13, 2016. (CFL PHOTO - Jimmy Jeong)

The ink had barely dried on his new two-year contract and Jeremiah Johnson was beaming from ear to ear. And for the charismatic running back, the decision to stay with the BC Lions was an easy one. All he had to do was look back at the buzz and excitement inside BC Place as they were completing their epic playoff comeback against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

“That was awesome. To all the fans out there, you guys don’t understand how fast this train is moving. I’m okay with bandwagoners. The way that game ended and how those fans were shaking them bells, it showed the Lions pride. I was very happy to play in front of that crowd.”

Lions running back Jeremiah Johnson

Johnson proved to be an integral piece to the Lions’ offence in his first year in orange, rushing for 809 yards and seven touchdowns in just 11 regular season games. His finest outing came during a September 9th victory over Montreal where he had 159 yards on the ground, the highest total for a CFL running back in 2016, and three majors. Johnson loved the lower mainland community so much that he and his family elected to stay here in the offseason. That, along the chance to win, no doubt played a big role in his desire to remain in orange through 2018.

Jeremiah Johnson #24 of the BC Lions celebrates a touchdown during the first half of CFL action against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina on Saturday, October 29, 2016. (CFL PHOTO - MATT SMITH)

Johnson played his role in spoiling the farewell party at Saskatchewan’s Mosaic Stadium on October 29th.

“It was an easy decision,” Johnson said. ‘When you come this far in a season, West Final, and you can see all the attributes and great things your fellow teammates and coaches are doing, you don’t want to be left out of this ride right here. Just the way we lost and the way we came out (against Calgary), you just want to get that nasty taste out of your mouth and I think the rest of the team should be feeling that way.

When it comes to winning, it’s going to first start in camp and start with us getting to know each other more and loving each other more as brothers, not just as teammates.”

Platooning with Anthony Allen as the featured tailback allowed both players to be fresh and the Leos wound up leading the entire CFL with 2,082 rushing yards. Perhaps the best part of the arrangement was just how well both running backs embraced it and put the team ahead of individual accomplishments. Allen also expressed interest in resuming the two-headed monster approach in 2017. “We’re like salt and pepper, we taste good when you put both of us on there” Allen said on November 21st. “Hopefully we can come back next year as the same 1-2 punch.”

Group shot 11 Edem 26 Allen 24 Johnson Jeremiah 35 Murray Lawrence Shaq laughing-2

The running backs were a tight group in 2016. Johnson, Allen and Shaquille Murray Lawrence are photo bombed by Mike Edem.

“I was texting with him a couple of days ago, just telling him how all of the snow was dropping on us,” Johnson said. “He showed me a picture of nice palm trees and sandy beaches, so I was a little jealous. I am more than happy to share that backfield with him and try to finish what we started.”

The fact Wally Buono is able to check a major offseason item off his list this early goes a long way in helping the Lions build towards taking the next step in 2017.

“The more we used him, the better he got,” Buono said of Johnson’s contributions in 2016.

“It’s important for me to try to get our roster of guys (signed) that are hopefully going to play a bigger part in 2017. For us to be able to get a quality running back under contract for ’17 and ’18 speaks well. He’s excited about being part of the BC Lions and I believe he will be just more productive and explosive next year.”

Wally Buono

 

BC Lions' Jeremiah Johnson celebrates after a play during the first half of CFL action in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, Sept 9, 2016. (CFL PHOTO Ð Chad Hipolito)

The Alouettes had no answer for Johnson in a September 9th loss at BC Place. Johnson rushed for 159 yards and three touchdowns.

Johnson can now focus on enjoying the holiday season with his wife and two toddlers- they had just returned from son Isaac’s Christmas concert when he came in and signed his deal- knowing that he will enter the new year in the same place he enjoyed so much success in 2016. For a pro football player at the stage of Johnson’s career, the stability and consistency is no doubt a nice luxury to have.

“Being with one team is a big key for me and my family. I’m very excited to actually establish some roots, so to speak.”

Bake’s Takes

It’s a term that gets thrown out there a lot, but Johnson may be the ultimate “team guy.” Case in point: during a week where he was sitting in favour of Allen, Johnson was tasked with helping run the Scout Team which is designed to mimic the opposition’s opposing defence for that week. It is typically made up of practice roster guys and others who are not dressing. Needless to say, Johnson was running around and smiling like a kid on Christmas morning, not dwelling on the fact he wasn’t in the lineup. That spoke volumes to many others on the staff. Allen also needs to be commended for how he handled the situation all season long.

With a vastly improved offensive line in 2016, the Lions were able to utilize the running game more effectively. It is a credit to offensive line coach Dan Dorazio and outgoing running backs coach Adam Blasetti. They have the pieces up front, a dynamic quarterback and a good enough running game to be a formidable force and that has to make the organization and its fans very excited about what’s in store for 2017. A balanced offence is a huge key.

Hat tip to Buono and the staff for starting to piece together the roster before the calendar flips to 2017. One January hits, the offseason tasks beef up heavily and re-signing pending free agents is just one part of the equation.

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com