May 14, 2019

Mini-Camp Preview | Uncovering The Young Gems

It’s a precursor to the main event if you will. The undercard before the heavyweight bout. The opening act before the big rockers take the stage. You get the picture. But as we’ve learned in recent years, mini-camp is a time for all of the young talent assembled by the brass to show what they can do in live action. Just getting the opportunity to stick around until the end of main camp brings about a world of possibilities.

Head coach DeVone Claybrooks knows all about that process. And now he is embracing the opportunity to see some of the best young prospects up and close for the first time in his new role as Lions’ sideline boss. He and the coaching staff will be getting every bit more excited as they cruise up the Coquihalla highway and descend upon Kamloops for the start of mini-camp on Wednesday morning. More than anything else, three extra days of practice allows each of these first-year Lions to get a leg up once the real competition begins.

“We don’t want the rookies and the young guys to be swimming off in the deep end without the floaties on their arms so to speak,” said Claybrooks during a rare break from his preparation on Monday afternoon.

“It’s about getting them adjusted and acclimated to the CFL game. Not all of them have played up here before so you’re also trying to kind of level the playing field. Not only do they get to learn the different rules and nuances, but they also get some extra time with the playbook. It kind of gives them a leg up.”

One of the more interesting questions going into 2019 surrounds the issue of number two quarterback. Who will be listed right behind prized free agent signing Mike Reilly on the depth chart?  Incumbent Ricky Lloyd indeed has a shot after throwing three touchdown passes in 2018 pre-season action and ultimately dressing for a pair of regular season games when they ran into injury problems behind centre.

Mini-camp features New Mexico product Austin Apodaca who appeared in four games with Montreal last season and also previously attended a mini-camp with Winnipeg. 6’3 pivot Cole Sears out of Arkansas-Monticello was also added to the roster this week.

Ricky Lloyd throws a pass in pre-season action against Winnipeg in 2018. Lloyd will be on the field once veterans report to Kamloops.

“I think we’ll have a healthy competition,” said Claybrooks of his quarterback hopefuls.

“Ricky is the vet of the group, which is funny seeing as how young he is, but we’ve got a competitive group coming in that can sling it. It will be exciting to evaluate them and see who steps up. You need to give them all reps to get a chance and see who sinks or swims.”

One new wrinkle this season involves the first real look at global players brought in as the result of commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s CFL 2.0 initiative. Like every other squad, the Lions will have three players drafted from January’s inaugural Mexico combine- receivers Gerardo Alvarez, Fernando Richarte and defensive lineman Octavio Gonzalez- and one from the April European draft in receiver Benjamin Plu who hails from France.

“The key with the global players is for them to feel that we wanted players there that will fit what we’re looking for as players in general, not just because they were global players,” the head coach explained.

“We wanted a certain body type and a certain type of ‘oomph’ so to speak. We felt that we were able to find that in the guys that we picked in those drafts.”

And then, of course, there is the Canadian content from the CFL Draft itself, conducted earlier this month. Despite not having a selection until round three, GM Ed Hervey has stated this was one of the more deep Canadian drafts he has worked and that each of the six players they selected will have a shot at coming in and playing special teams.

Benjamin Plu was taken 7th overall in the inaugural CFL European Draft. Photo: Johany Jutras

“I don’t know of any team that wins a championship that doesn’t have good Canadians,” said Claybrooks.

“Canadian content is key for everything that you do. We were able to get positions of need and positions where we felt that we wanted to get better at and special teams is one of those where we got several of the body types we were looking for. I’m excited to have them come in and get to work.”

The main event is still to come indeed. But what will the warm-up act bring? Anticipation is rising by the hour in Lions headquarters. You can hear it in the head coach’s voice.

“I think Ed, Torey Hunter and Geroy Simon did a great job in getting us some new talent. It’s up to us coaches to see who fits into our system and who doesn’t. We have a great talent pool to choose from, some great athletes and there is going to be some surprises. That’s always the goal.”

Mini-Camp Schedule

*all practices taking place at Hillside Stadium in Kamloops

Wednesday, May 15th

10:30 AM-12:20 PM

Thursday, May 16th

8:30 AM- 10:20 AM

Friday, May 17th

8:30 AM-10:20 AM

Matt Baker: