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Khari Jones was one of the most dominant quarterbacks of his generation and he has done a fantastic job since being hired as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the BC Lions in 2014.
The 2001 CFL Most Outstanding Player has been very impressed with his quarterbacks in camp, saying “So far, so good. Guys are in a much better position than they were last year, especially at the quarterback position. Jonathon [Jennings] is more comfortable, Travis [Lulay] is as comfortable as you can get, Keith [Price] is doing well and Alex [Ross] is playing good football. All four, I am very impressed with them.”
Jones has mentored all the quarterbacks on the Lions’ roster, but none more so than Jonathon Jennings. The Leos’ young signal caller took significant strides in 2016 and his accelerated progression would likely not have been possible without Jones’ influence. Jennings is fresh off his best season as a pro. The Columbus, OH product tossed for 5,226 yards with a 67% completion percentage and 27 touchdowns in 2016.
“It’s just an overall comfort level that you see in him,” stated Jones on the way Jennings has started training camp. “The comfort comes with experience and knowing he has done it before, and with being under the same offence. This is the first time [Jennings] has been able to come in with the exact same thing and so it is more nuanced. [Jennings] now knows not only where to go with the ball, but also what the play is designed for and it’s nice when you have a quarterback in that groove. Jonathon is still learning of course, but he is in a better position than last year I think.”
Another key figure in the Leos’ quarterback room is Travis Lulay. The grizzled vet has appeared in 117 games for the club, throwing for 17,165 yards and 104 touchdowns. Lulay led the Lions to a Grey Cup championship in 2011 and took home the CFL Most Outstanding Player award that same season. The 33-year-old is the top backup quarterback in the league and the perfect person to help mould Jennings.
“Travis has been fantastic,” said Jones after practice on Monday. “For one thing, he’s healthy. He’s throwing the ball as well as I’ve seen him since I’ve been here. This is my fourth year here and he has gotten better throwing the ball every year and his decision-making has been solid. You can tell, he knows the game. To have two quarterbacks with the kind of experience we have and guys that have done the things that they’ve done is a luxury.”
A team typically sinks or swims based on the play of their quarterbacks, so the Lions will rely heavily on the right arm and the mind of Jennings in 2017. Thankfully, the club appears to have a budding superstar in Jennings and they are also very deep at this position with multiple quarterbacks capable of leading a team to victory.
Jonathon Jennings, Travis Lulay and Keith Price.
Newcomers And Where They Came from
Alex Ross – The former Coastal Carolina star was inked to a free agent deal by the Lions this offseason. Ross had an opportunity with the Atlanta Falcons in 2016 as an undrafted free agent, but the club waived him in August. Ross dazzled in college, setting school records for completions (760), attempts (1,174), yards passing (9,918) and passing touchdowns (760). An athletic signal caller, Ross also set the conference record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 19.
The Elder Statesman
Lulay will be 34 years old in September and the 2017 season will be his ninth in the CFL. He has spent all nine CFL seasons in Vancouver and he figures to go down as one of the best quarterbacks in franchise history. His best season as a pro came in 2011 when he led the Leos to the Grey Cup while throwing for 4,815 yards and 32 majors en route to earning the CFL MOP Award. While injuries have forced Lulay into a reserve role with the current Lion squad, the tutelage he provides Jennings and the other quarterbacks is invaluable.
The Big Question
Will Jennings take the next step from being a great quarterback to an elite quarterback? Jennings vaulted himself into the conversation of the top three quarterbacks in the league last season. At just 24 years of age, Jennings is still an infant in quarterback years but his maturation process will have to continue it’s forward progression if the Lions hope to contend for the Grey Cup in 2017. Look for the Saginaw Valley State product to evaluate his game to new heights this season, as he has a bevy of talented receivers to throw the ball to.
It Could Happen In 2017
Jennings is just 2,770 yards away from reaching the 10,000 yards passing milestone in his CFL career. Over 36 games in orange, Jennings has completed 66.7% of his passes for 7,230 yards and 42 touchdowns. He has only tossed 25 interceptions in 769 pass attempts and has registered an impressive quarterback efficiency rating of 101.5. Throw in nearly 500 career rushing yards and the Leos have themselves a player to build around at the quarterback position.
“Just in talking to Jon, I think for him the biggest difference is the knowledge of the playbook and having a plan rather than feeling your way through stuff early in camp. From day one, you have a plan. You hear a play call and you put a plan in your mind and you try to go out and execute that plan. So for him, I think the biggest difference is the mindset and the approach to the game.” – Travis Lulay on Jonathon Jennings’ impressive training camp.