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June 11, 2018

Moving Ahead | New Challenge Awaits

VANCOUVER, BC - JUNE 8: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers play the BC Lions in their pre-season game June 8, 2018 at BC Place in Vancouver, BC. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/BC Lions)

There is just something special about the freshness of the opening week of any season. The grass is cut, optimism is in the air and players and coaches are equally excited as well as hungry about strapping on the pads for their first meaningful game in months.

And while it’s true, everybody is 0-0 and has the same mathematical chance, they all understand how high the mountain is. Having survived the rigours of another training camp, Bryan Burnham is just happy to get the opportunity to prove 2017 was a mere bump in the road.

“We love it in Kamloops, but the mosquitoes were getting bad,” Burnham said with a smirk.

“It feels great just to be back here in the Lower Mainland and concentrating on playing a game, not just running through two-a-days. Being out at walkthrough today slowly brought back memories of my first four seasons. It definitely felt really good to be back here.”

Burnham’s touchdown grab and subsequent highlight reel catch to secure a two-point conversion helped the offence snap out of a funk in Friday’s 34-21 pre-season victory over Winnipeg. It was almost a carbon copy of the previous week’s victory in Calgary: a slow start offensively that was tempered by some excellent play on defence. But once the floodgates opened, it stayed that way. Burnham knows they can ill afford to keep getting away with it, especially against a Montreal Alouettes squad that is also looking to show people they mean business to start the new season.

“It’s always tough to come out of the gate,” Burnham added.

“That’s kind of been our problem the past few years, not being able to start fast. This is a new offence. There may be a lot of the same guys, but it’s going to look different this year. I think a lot of us are re-motivated and excited about what we can do. Coming out in our season opener at BC Place we have to start fast. There’s no excuse not to. It’s just about picking up our assignments.”

 

True, you can give them a bit of a break based on the fact the majority of veterans didn’t see any game action until this past Friday. Wally Buono has made sure the topic of bad starts has remained at the forefront of all their preparation for Saturday.

“We don’t want to make excuses and we talked about that today at our team meeting, that we need to start off faster,” Buono said.

“Part of that is staying away from penalties, staying away from bad decisions, dropped balls. These are all little things that mount up, especially early in the game. If you can execute early, get the momentum going then the confidence also goes up.”

Confidence will be the keyword. Many observers believe the Lions’ fortunes will rest on just what kind of production they will get from their starting quarterback. Jonathon Jennings will have the keys on Saturday night and Burnham believes, despite those early game setbacks, number 10 has shown all the signs of a guy who can lead them the way he did in 2016.

“Health-wise, he’s back to how he was before the shoulder injury. He’s finally got that zip back on the ball,” Burnham explained.

“For him, it’s all a mental game. I think he’s approached both this past offseason and training camp very well in terms of being in the playbook, tuning his mental game, making the right reads and making sure guys are where they need to be. He’s done a great job leading the offence.”

The grass is green the smell of the real season is indeed in the air.

Practice Tidbits

In a rather non-surprising announcement, Buono confirmed Jennings will be his starting quarterback for Saturday’s opener. The big question is, who will dress as his number two? Cody Fajardo has improved steadily from the ankle injury he suffered on June 1st in Calgary, while the doctors and training staff will remain slow in Travis Lulay‘s final stages of recovery. Although the sample size is small, newcomer Ricky Lloyd has shown he is more than capable of playing behind Jennings.

“I don’t want to start speculating because at this point we have three good days of practice (before Saturday),” Buono explained.

“I thought (Jonathon) did a good job in the second pre-season game, made some good throws and obviously he’s going to be better prepared this week from playing more than two quarters last Friday.”

Jennings is batting an even .500 in regular season openers as a Lion, beating the Stampeders in 2016 and falling to the Eskimos in week one last year.

Earlier on Monday, the club announced ten players had signed practice roster agreements: DL Josh Kaddu, DL Claudell Louis, DL Rashari Henry, DL Edward Godin, DB Isaiah Guzylak-Messam, DB Steffon Herd, WR William Watson, WR Samajie Grant, OL Phillip Norman and OL Andrew Peirson.

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com