BC Lions defensive lineman David Menard (78) sacks Montreal Alouettes quarterback Darian Durant (4) in the Montreal end zone during first half CFL action in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, September 8, 2017. (CFL PHOTO - Jimmy Jeong)
Gabe Knapton won’t sugar coat it: he wants to show the other guys they made a mistake. Two days after his trade from the Montreal Alouettes for wide receiver Chris Williams saw the release of the 2018 schedule. And wouldn’t you know it? Knapton and the BC Lions open their 65th regular season against those same Alouettes.
“I’ve had this one circled on my calendar for quite some time,” stated the defensive end this week.
“I’m ready to go out there and get after it. I want to win and a try to approach it like one game isn’t more important than the other to me. Montreal is our next opponent and we won’t look past that right now.”
If training camp and the two pre-season wins were any indications, Knapton and the new-look defensive front has the potential to cause major havoc on the opposition week in and week out. That could mean bad news for Alouettes starting quarterback Drew Willy on Saturday night. Knapton and Odell Willis look to provide the perfect bookends the defensive line has been looking for the past several years.
“I’d like to think so,” said Knapton.
“Odell is great to have on your opposite side. He knows a great amount about the game, he’s a good vet and they have to focus on him that will let me go a little bit and if they focus on me he can do his thing.”
It will be a tough act to follow from those dominating pre-season performances. After forcing seven turnovers in a victory at Calgary June 1st, Willis returned a fumble caused by defensive tackle Davon Coleman 20 yards for a touchdown on Winnipeg’s opening drive last week at BC Place. Otha Foster‘s third quarter pick-six proved to the final dagger. Knapton and company are looking to build a unit that can thrive on making those big plays at any given moment, something they have lacked the past couple of seasons.
“This week’s plan is to just do what we’ve been doing: cause takeaways, get pressure on the quarterback, fly to the ball and arrive with impact,” explained the former Alouette.
“We’ve come together pretty good.”
And yeah, if he can stick it to the squad that deemed him expendable, that would be the perfect way to cap a successful first regular season game in orange.
“It (the trade) was needed,” added Knapton.
“I was ready to be out of there and have a change of scenery. I couldn’t be more happy about where I am today and now Montreal is going to have to prepare against me.”
Nothing wrong with a little extra motivation to start things off.
Game 1: Montreal Alouettes at BC Lions
Saturday, June 16th
TV: TSN 1/ESPN 2
Radio: TSN 1040
2017 season series: it was a clean sweep for the Lions. They prevailed 23-16 at Molson Stadium on July 7th and cruised to a 41-18 victory at BC Place on September 8th.
Game day weather forecast: mainly sunny with a high of 22 degrees Celsius
That’s what pre-season games are for. Heading into a new season and new opportunity, Jonathon Jennings is taking the approach that what happened in the past will stay there. Even those two pre-season contests where the offence wasn’t exactly clicking until it was almost too late.
“We’re just all excited. It’s a different vibe out here,” said the Leos’ starting quarterback.
“We keep talking about details and that’s what wins championships is those small things. We’re trying to clean up some of those small things and make sure we’re on the same page with every single read and what we’re trying to execute on offence.”
Along with an improved pass protection, he should have a solid group of receivers to throw to. Emmanuel Arceneaux, Bryan Burnham and Shaq Johnson will be his prime targets while new addition Ricky Collins Jr. is primed to be a key figure. To a man, they know they must go out and prove it first and foremost.
The Coach Says
As he prepares for the final regular season opener of his illustrious career as a CFL head coach, a few words of wisdom from Wally Buono:
On the improvements made on the line of scrimmage:
“I think they did show already (what they can do). You look at last week, you saw the value of an Odell Willis, you saw Knapton and I think Joel (Figueroa) is going to be a physical force that’s going to help. Jovan (Olafioye) has been a great player for a lot of years. He’s back and hopefully, he’s motivated. The guy that has had a good camp is David Foucault and if he can continue to do what we expect I think we’ll be as good as any offensive line in the league.”
On not getting distracted by the “Win For Wally” campaign being started by some inside and outside the organization:
“I’ve kind of neutralized that by saying ‘guys, win it for yourself.’ And I’m the benefactor if it, how’s that? You play well, you win and I get the credit. You’ve got to be motivated by yourself. If you have a rallying cry, that’s great. But at the end of it, I’m just telling you when it gets tough out there if you’re not doing it for yourself it’s tough to do it for somebody else.”
Four Lions To Watch
Jeremiah Johnson– the outgoing running back is coming off a 913-yard season and was the recipient of some good competition from Brandon Rutley in camp. Look for number 24 to have a fire lit under him to start his third season in orange.
David Foucault– likely the most pleasant surprise out of camp was seeing Foucault not yet lose his grip on the starting right guard position. With the new additions up front, it was easy to overlook the ex-Carolina Panther. He has run with the opportunity so far.
Davon Coleman- another one under the radar thanks to some other acquisitions and his late arrival in a trade with Hamilton, Coleman caused the big turnover that led to a touchdown for Willis to set the tone early last week. The Lions will look for any improvements they can get at the interior positions.
Anthony Thompson– entering his second season as starting safety, the 2016 draft pick has truly rounded into form. His quest to become one of the league’s top Canadian defensive backs continues on Saturday.
Three Keys To The Game
1). Start Fast- always the preferred method, but as the players have said all week the offence needs to get in sync early on.
2.)- Control the Line of Scrimmage- it has been the mission statement ever since Ed Hervey took over as GM. It’s up to both sides of the ball to make it happen right away. Getting in Willy’s grill will be a main area of focus.
3.)- Eliminate Penalties- particularly on special teams. Jeff Reinebold’s group looks to be a more nasty group this time around. And we always love seeing Chris Rainey take one to the house.
11- total number of starters on the above depth chart who were not on the team to end 2017. Four of those are on offence, seven on defence.
Dating back to September of 2015, the Lions are riding a five-game win streak against the Alouettes. The last defeat on August 20th, 2015 is Montreal’s lone victory at BC Place since the 2000 season. Despite that, they fired head coach Tom Higgins the next day.
If you like the superstition angle: the last time these two clubs opened the season against one another was 2011 when the Lions went on to win their most recent Grey Cup championship. They have not met in an opener since 1981 when the home squad cruised to a 48-8 victory at Empire Stadium under head coach Vic Rapp.
One more matchup nugget courtesy CFL stats guru Steve Daniel: this marks the first time in 35 years since the Lions and Alouettes will meet as non-playoff teams. 1982 was the most recent time both clubs missed the playoffs in the same season.
Perhaps this is an ideal opponent for Jennings to start against. In his four career starts against Montreal, the quarterback has a 75.1 percent completion rate (101/133), 1,255 yards and five touchdowns.
The Alouettes also underwent some significant football ops. changes this offseason. Head coach Mike Sherman makes his official CFL debut. Sherman is perhaps best known as being the general manager and head coach of the Green Bay Packers from 2000-2005 when Brett Favre was behind centre. Jennings and the offence can also expect to see some new tricks from Alouettes’ defensive coordinator and coaching veteran Rich Stubler. The 68-year old and former Grey Cup champion with the Lions has migrated all the way east after serving in the same role with Toronto the past two seasons.
Fans are encouraged to stay in their seats at halftime as legends Jamie Taras and Eric Carter will be officially inducted into the club’s Wall of Fame. You can read more on that HERE.
For fans unable to attend the game, TSN 1040 has you covered beginning with the pre-game show at 5:00 PM with Lowell Ullrich. Bob Marjanovich, Giulio Caravatta and sideline reporter Karen Surman bring you the action at 7:00 PM PT. Viewers can watch on TSN 1 while Lions fans south of the border can tune in on ESPN 2.