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January 31, 2018

Improvement Starts Now For Big Duo Up Front

Since his first day on the job, General Manager Ed Hervey has repeated his mission statement over and over: the 2018 BC Lions must be better on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

As the calendar pages flip and offseason training programs heat up, Cody Husband and Antonio Johnson continue to use said mission statement as motivation.

The pair of hulking offensive linemen put pen to paper on new contracts last week. Now the onus is to prove to the new boss they are capable of helping their unit complete the task and give Jonathon Jennings more time and space to work with.

“We allowed too much pressure last year, and we have to be better,” Husband admits.

“Right now, we’re looking at that as our goal. We want to make sure we protect Jonathon more, give him time and allow him to be the player he can be. Last year was a down year, but we know what he can do.”

The truth lies in the numbers. The Lions allowed the most sacks (49) and quarterback pressures (141) in 2017. The silver lining is they already know they can do better. Case in point: the 2016 season where they allowed 14 fewer sacks and helped the ground game lead the entire league in both rushing yards and touchdowns.

“We didn’t like the numbers that we had last year, and we know we need to be a lot better as a unit,” Johnson added.

“For him (Hervey) to invest in me, that shows me he believes I am one of the guys who can get the job done.”

Johnson emerged as one of the pleasant surprises from 2016 training camp, parlaying the competition into a starting role at left tackle and productive first year up north.

Heading into year three, he has elected to not return home to Texas this offseason and train with Husband and other teammates at the club’s Surrey practice facility.

“I decided that if they were going to invest in me I might as well just come back and put all the work in here,” Johnson explained.

“That’s what made the decision to come back easy: to put the work in here and get closer to (strength and conditioning) coach Boyko.

“It’s always good to have a vet like Cody around you. Those guys have already been through what you want to accomplish. Why not have someone help me out and mentor me through this thing? It is good to have another player around to teach you some of the small techniques and stuff like that.”

Husband had an adjustment of his own to start that 2016 camp, moving over to his current position at centre. With four CFL years already under his belt, the New Westminster Hyacks product knew he had to take advantage of the opportunity. Now he thrives on directing traffic up front.

“Its mainly just being more comfortable with the position and telling people where to go. I know I can get everyone in the places they have to be. I’ll guide the offence and communicate with everyone, so it’s going well. I’m happy with where I’m at,” Husband explained.

“If something goes wrong it falls on me. I have to make sure everything goes right. It’s something that motivates me: I want to make sure I do the best that I can.”

Despite talk of changes, continuity is also important at their position. Both players were ecstatic to hear Dan Dorazio will be back to lead the group. The veteran offensive line coach and a longtime disciple of Wally Buono is as detailed as they come for a position that requires that with a capital D.

“He’s a technician,” Husband said.

“He makes sure everyone is in the right spot and knows what they’re doing. It’s always good to have the same line coach coming back because you know you know the techniques and won’t be learning anything new. I’m happy he’s back. We have a good relationship so it works out well.”

“I think that (technician) is the perfect word for him,” Johnson added.

“Everything has to be perfect to the point technique-wise. You might have stopped the guy, but if you didn’t do it with the right technique he’ll let you know. He’s been around this game so long, he knows what is going to make you better.”

The Lions’ remaining list of pending free agents includes offensive linemen Hunter Steward and Kirby Fabien, both starters for the last few seasons. Whether one, both or either return is anyone’s guess, but you know Hervey and his brass are hard at work addressing all options for the coming season.

The avenues for finding these players include upcoming US free agent camps and the CFL Draft on May 3rd. As training camp gets closer, the offensive line will be one of many fascinating storylines to follow.

Husband and Johnson are excited to be part of a new and improved group.

“I want to play here. It’s my hometown,” Husband added.

“I get to play in front of friends and family, so BC was my number one priority. We were able to make it work so I am happy with it.”

“I’m very excited to be back. I knew I wanted to return, but that there was also going to be change,” Johnson said.

“I was just hoping they would pick me to help them get better next year.”

 Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com