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August 5, 2019

Overcoming Adversity Is Our Middle Name

BC Lions quarterback Mike Reilly scrambles to find a pass during second half CFL action against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Saturday, July 20, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor

As a guy who bounced NFL training camps in four different cities and endured two seasons as an understudy with the Lions before his pro career really took off in Edmonton, Mike Reilly knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity. In fact, it might as well be our middle name going forward.

As he and his Lions teammates returned to the practice grind with a 1-6 record ahead of their two-game trip to Hamilton and Winnipeg, a beardless Reilly- it’s the second time he has chopped off the facial hair this season- had all the demeanour of a man looking to operate with a clean slate. One thing is clear: the bye week and a chance to escape all of the outside noise did players and coaches some good.

“Bye weeks are always good for that,” said the Lions’ starting pivot after a spirited Monday practice.

“Anytime you come back from a bye week it’s always like a mini-version of coming into training camp where guys are refreshed and excited to wanna be there and see all their teammates and friends and things like that because you’ve been away from them for a little while. So I definitely got that feeling when I came in yesterday. Everybody was excited to be in the building. You could feel that energy. That just has to continue to carry over every single week and then show up on game day.”

The masses are indeed getting restless. Fans being the passionate breed that they are, many on the outside are calling for wholesale changes. After seven games, that seems a bit over the top. But it also speaks to the high expectations and high regards those observers had for this team after Reilly and a few other exciting pieces were added in free agency. Perhaps one of the big reasons Reilly has been able to carve out Canadian Football Hall of Fame career is that fact he learned long ago to drown out said noise, whether it has been good or bad.

“External pressure is what you make it,” added Reilly.

“I’ve never been the type of guy to read my own headlines because when they’re writing good stuff about you they’re probably off the mark and writing too many good things and when they’re writing bad stuff about you they’re probably off the mark and writing too many bad things. So I don’t care about any of that. I care about what my guys feel about me in there ( the locker room) and what the results are on the field. I know how the guys here feel about me but I also know that our results on the field aren’t what they need to be.”

 

That last part could be viewed as a big understatement. At this stage, not many expected just one narrow victory in Toronto to go along with six divisional losses and two home performances where they failed to score an offensive touchdown. As for the hole they have dug themselves in this Western playoff race, all DeVone Claybrooks’ squad can do is focus on what lies ahead of them in this massive traffic jam before a possible exit to November football on the freeway. And that is a Saturday test in Steeltown. The head coach is ready to attack it with the players at his disposal and quickly brushed off the notion that bye week should have brought more change.

“It’s not like you can go out here and get a whole new 46-man roster,” said Claybrooks.

“If you look at us from the start of the season until now, every piece that we’ve identified we’ve went out and procured. We needed a returner; we got a returner (Ryan Lankford). We needed a field corner; we got a field corner (Crezdon Butler). We needed a free safety; we got a free safety (Branden Dozier). We’re slowly building this thing piece by piece, so that’s how we’re looking at it and that’s the steps that we’re taking.”

One area Claybrooks and the staff definitely looked at as a ‘must’ on the need to improve list is keeping Reilly upright as much as possible. With Sukh Chungh on track to return from his triceps injury and the addition of veteran Justin Renfrow in a trade from Calgary, they certainly have some options to play with.

“The glaring one is we’ve got to protect the quarterback. We obviously know that and we’ve got to get after the quarterback,” added Claybrooks.

“If we do those two things, we’ll be okay. We’re shuffling the line upfront. We’ve got some new pieces there so we’ll see how they gel. Nothing is set in stone at this moment because it’s a Day A, so we’ll see what five were going to go with.”

You can look at the narrow loss in Calgary on June 29th as an example of how potent Reilly can be with that key protection from his offensive line. That will be the template to try and follow.

“Any time you get that little bit of extra time, that can make all the difference in the world,” said Reilly.

“But you can’t let that stuff affect you, otherwise you’re not going to be ready to make a play when you do get the time. If you’re expecting every play that you’re not going to have enough time, then you’re not going to be able to play well.”

Time is an important word here, indeed. Plenty of it to go, but the importance of winning games only gets greater.

Eastern Swing

The Lions and Tiger-Cats do battle on Saturday evening at Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field. It is a 4:00 PM kickoff (TSN 1040, TSN 1, ESPN+). After that, the club will stay in Steeltown and practice at McMaster University next Monday and Tuesday before flying to Winnipeg in advance of a critical test against the Blue Bombers on Thursday, August 15th.

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com