December 15, 2017

Morris: Hervey not shying away from renovating Lions den

When Ed Hervey was hired as the new general manager in B.C. he said the Lions didn’t need a major overhaul, just “a tweak here and there.”

Less than three weeks after taking the job Hervey’s tweaking might not be an overhaul but there’s certainly some renovations being done.

Some of the early moves don’t come as a surprise. A few have raised eyebrows. No one doubts there is more to come.

“Tweaking is change,” said Hervey, who spent 18 years with the Edmonton Eskimos as a player, scout and general manager.  “We have areas that are being addressed.

“We are constantly going through an evaluation process. Every change that we make is to improve our football team. We feel it makes us that much better and hope that it improves us to where we can be more competitive next season.”

To make room for Hervey, Wally Buono stepped down as BC’s general manager to concentrate solely on coaching for one final season. Buono maintains his role as vice-president of football operations.

The Lions finished 7-11 last season and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996. They scored the least points in the West (469) and allowed the most (501) so it didn’t really come as shock when offensive coordinator Khari Jones and defensive line coach Robin Ross were jettison.

Former Lions’ quarterback Jarious Jackson, who has spent the last two years as Saskatchewan’s quarterbacks coach, has been hired to replace Jones.

Hervey said he wanted an offensive coordinator who will assist in the development of quarterback Jonathon Jennings. After a great 2016 season, Jennings seemed confused sometimes this year as he threw 19 interceptions against 16 touchdowns.

Hervey was impressed with Jackson during his two seasons as Edmonton’s quarterbacks coach where he worked with Mike Reilly and James Franklin.

“Just watching his growth and maturity as a coach we just felt now was the time and it was a great opportunity,” said Hervey.

“It’s important to have someone who understands fully the offence and articulates their message to the offence. More important is their relationship with the quarterback. I’ve had a chance to watch Jarious working with quarterbacks. It just shows he has the ability to relate to the quarterback position.”

Jackson is excited about working with Jennings

“Jonathon Jennings has all the tools,” said Jackson. “I can’t wait to sit down with him, talk to him and pick his brain and see where he is in regards to the knowledge of knowing the game. What he doesn’t know, that’s going to be my job to teach him.”

If the Lions want to improve in 2018 they will need better personnel. In a move to upgrade talent procurement, Hervey has hired former Eskimo Torey Hunter as the new director of player personnel, replacing Neil McEvoy. MeEvoy will remain director of football operations.

“Torey and I have a long history together,” said Hervey. “We’ve had many years of conversations (about) what kind of players we want to bring in.”

Resigning receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux, a potential free agent, makes plenty of sense. Even hobbled part of the year by an injury Arceneaux still had 100 catches for 1,137 yards and six touchdowns. His size and strength gives Jennings a big target to aim at.

By sending wide receiver Chris Williams to Montreal in exchange for defensive end Gabriel Knapton, the Lions might be acknowledging last year’s big free agent signing didn’t pan out as planned. Williams missed the first six games of the season recovering from off-season knee surgery. He ended up playing nine games, making 38 catches for 415 yards and one touchdown.


> Hervey adds Hunter to football ops staff
> Lions trade for DE Gabriel Knapton
Lions appoint Jarious Jackson as offensive coordinator

On a team with Arceneaux, Bryan Burnham and Nic Moore, Williams became expendable.

“As far as the BC Lions moving forward, it was all about fit and what we are trying to do as far as addressing areas,” said Hervey.

In making any CFL team better, “you have to address your trenches first,” said Hervey.

Acquiring the six-foot-three, 263-pound Knapton helps address a problem on one side of the line. In 68 regular-season games the four-year veteran has 175 tackles and 32 sacks.

The Lions defence was third worst in the league last year with 28 sacks. BC’s 95 quarterback pressures and the 42 turnovers created were second worst in the league.

“Today’s trade gives us a veteran presence, a hardworking player who had production over the years,” said Hervey. “We know he brings it every down.

“We need that up front. He brings a level of grit that we want.”

No matter how good a quarterback you have, he’s going to have trouble operating on a team that allowed a league-high 49 sacks. Revamping the offensive line, traditionally a spot for Canadians, present a special challenge

“You have to be careful and strategic,” said Hervey. “It is an area that we are looking at with great interest to make certain the players that return are the players that we want to return.

“The evaluation in that area, in my opinion, is critical to our success moving forward.”

The Lions’ list of potential free agents includes defensive end Craig Roh, who led the team with seven sacks, linebacker Chandler Fenner, who was second with 76 tackles, defensive halfback T. J. Lee, who had a team-leading four interceptions, and veteran right guard Kirby Fabien.

“We have to evaluate our roster, look at our priorities to make certain that the players that we want to move forward with are under contract,” said Hervey.

One of the more perplexing questions is what to do with potential free agent quarterback Travis Lulay.

The 34-year-old former league Most Valuable Player has been a tutor and mentor to Jennings. At times he’s shown flashes of his old brilliance on the field but also is recovering from a season-ending knee injury.

Being new to the franchise, Hervey might view Lulay in terms of what he can contribute to the Lions in the future, not what he’s done in the past.

“I know how much Travis has meant to his organization and what he has meant to this league,” he said. “I personally have a tremendous amount of respect for Travis.

“With that being said, we have to always make certain that what we do is best for our football team and maker sure we are looking at a roster that gives us the best chance at competing for 2018.”