Now that he has a shiny new key, Jarious Jackson is looking forward to unlocking the potential of the BC Lions’ offence.
The signing of free agent quarterback Mike Reilly has thrown open the door for the Lions’ offensive coordinator as he prepares for the upcoming CFL season.
“You have a guy that knows how to read defences, understands schemes, been around the CFL a lot,” said Jackson as he reclined in a chair in an office at the team’s practice facility in Surrey, B.C. “The sky is the limit.”
The 34-year-old Reilly is a year younger than the recently retired Travis Lulay who spent most of last year as the Lions’ starter. At six-foot three and 230 pounds Reilly also is an inch taller, about 15 pounds heavier, and his body hasn’t experienced the wear and tear Lulay’s endured.
What makes Jackson the most excited about Reilly is his strong arm combined with the ability to pull the ball down and run when needed.
“Mike has a lot of gas in the tank,” said Jackson. “Having him as a mobile quarterback back there, when things break down, he can go make the plays that need to be made.”
Reilly and Jackson have some history. They spent two years working together in Edmonton, winning the Grey Cup in 2015 when Reilly was the game’s most valuable player.
“That’s a huge advantage,” said Jackson. “He knows me and how we worked together in the past. That was a selling point for him coming here.”
The offensive system Jackson employs in B.C. is similar to the one used in Edmonton. There may be some different terminology, but Reilly isn’t going back to square one to learn a whole new scheme.
“A guy who has been in this system, and is just not learning the system, is going to do a lot better,” said Jackson. “What excited me is his experience with this system, how well he’s been at executing it.
“He can push the ball a mile down the field. He’s good at getting you out of bad plays. When things break down, he’s able to make smart plays with his legs. He has a great pocket presence about him. You have to play him different than you do other guys.”
Reilly attempted more passes (621) for more yards (5,562) than any other quarterback in the league last year. His 30 touchdowns were second only to the 35 thrown by Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell. He also led the league with 55 passes of 20 yards or more and had a 52.1 per cent efficiency on second downs.
Reilly’s 595 yards along the ground was the most of any quarterback in the league and left him 10th among CFL rushers. He scored 13 rushing touchdowns, one less than the league-leading 14 by Toronto’s James Franklin.
To understand the Lions’ 9-9 record last year, you don’t need to look further than the team’s offensive statistics. BC was seventh in points scored (23.5), eighth in net offensive (averaging 316.8 yards a game), sixth in passing TDs (22) and seventh in passing yards (averaging 237.9 a game).
The Lions did have some marginal success in the red zone, where they finished tied for fourth. Jackson believes Reilly will improve on those numbers.
“When he gets down in the red zone it doesn’t frighten him,” he said. “That’s when he perks up even more. He’s not a guy that tightens up when he gets down there.
“He’s a guy that doesn’t like to be stopped at all costs.”
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For Reilly to be effective he needs people around him. The Lions have signed free agent wide receiver Duron Carter who will join veterans Bryan Burnham and Shaq Johnson. Free agent John White has been added to improve the running game.
To give Reilly protection, BC signed free agent offensive lineman Sikh Chungh from Winnipeg who will play beside veterans like Joel Figueroa and David Foucault.
Head Coach DeVone Claybrooks said the addition of Carter gives Reilly another threat to beat a defence with.
“The more weapons you have, the more toys you have in your toy room, the better you can be,” said Claybrooks. “It causes defences where they can’t single out one person to stop.
“You have to play legit and honest. That just opens up the weapons for your quarterback.”
One concern for the Lions is their lack of depth behind Reilly.
Besides Lulay retiring, Jonathon Jennings signed with Ottawa and Cody Fajardo joined Saskatchewan as free agents. That leaves Ricky Lloyd, who dressed for two games and didn’t see any action last season, as the team’s only other quarterback.
Claybrooks said the Lions will have more quarterbacks on the roster before training camp.
“We have a contingency plan in place, what we want to do and the steps how we want to get there,” said Claybrooks. “You have to have depth at every position and a depth you trust and believe in.
“We have some guys on our neg list and some guys in our system that we have identified that fit. We’re not in a hurry to pull that trigger at this moment. Knock on wood, the quarterback we do have has been very durable.”