October 21, 2019

4 Positive Storylines As We Close Book On 2019

Mike Reilly led the CFL in passing yards before going down with a wrist injury on October 12th. Here, he throws a pass against Toronto on July 6th/2019. Photo: David Dermer

They won’t be sipping champagne from the Grey Cup for at least another year and the franchise will ultimately look back at this season as a disappointment. Still, there will be a few things to watch for and reflect on when the 2019 BC Lions hit the field for the final time on Saturday, November 2nd against the defending Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders.

As members of the squad rest and heal up during their final bye week, we thought we would take a look at a few of the positive storylines to emerge from the 66th regular season in franchise history. A few key pieces are in place.

Burn Baby Burn

The addition of quarterback Mike Reilly has had a resounding impact on a few players on the offence but perhaps none more so than Bryan Burnham. Simply put, number 16 has established himself as one of the league’s top playmakers, making defences shake their collective head at his ability to come up with acrobatic catches on a game- by- game basis. In last week’s loss to Saskatchewan, Burnham also established a new career-high in receiving yards and currently sits atop the CFL leaderboard at 1,401. He has also scored a career-high ten touchdowns this season, surpassing his total of nine from 2018. It will be interesting to see how much he can add to all of this totals in the regular-season finale. Burnham should also be the favourite for the club’s nominee for Most Outstanding Player.


White Carries Load

He has already eclipsed his previous career-best of 886 rushing yards and now John White needs just 40 more on the ground to hit 1,000 for the first time. This is an especially great accomplishment when you consider White has had hard luck with injuries prior to this season. He missed all of Edmonton’s Grey Cup-winning season of 2015 with a ruptured Achilles tendon before promptly coming back and setting that previous season-high. White needs just one more rushing touchdown to match his previous season-high of eight, also set in 2016. The 28-year old- along with Brandon Rutley- has also given the Lions the type of physical presence they had been missing in the backfield in recent season.

Line Of Scrimmage Makes Noise

If one thing was evident in the team’s recent four-game winning streak, it was the fact they controlled the line of scrimmage for the better part of four quarters in each contest. Let’s start with an offensive line that responded very well to Kelly Bates taking over as their position coach. In the first ten games of the season, they allowed 43 sacks. In the four games that followed, they allowed only five and allowed Reilly to do his thing with more time in the pocket. A big reason for the improvement was having the same starting five playing the same positions since August 24th against Hamilton, now a span of eight contests. On the defensive line, the re-addition of both Shawn Lemon and David Menard plus the signing of Jonathan Newsome has played a big role in stopping the run and getting pressure on the opposing quarterback. Lemon has recorded eight sacks in nine games since his trade and leads the squad in that category. Odell Willis recorded the 100th sack of his great career on September 21st in Ottawa. He is just the 12th in CFL history to hit that milestone.

BC Lions offensive line coach Kelly Bates during the CFL game between the Ottawa RedBlacks and the BC Lions at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, BC, Friday, Sept. 13, 2019. (Photo: Johany Jutras / CFL)

The Canadians

Fans should be excited about the improvement of Canadian content, especially on offence. Before going down with a fractured foot at the beginning of October, free agent addition and Coquitlam native Lemar Durant provided a huge boost to the receiving corps. His 810 receiving yards, 57 receptions and eight touchdowns are all career-highs. The sense inside the organization is they have one of the game’s brightest young stars at the position. Shaq Johnson has also enjoyed his best season as a pro, entering the final game with 566 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

It’s also a nice feather in the cap for the franchise to have seen four 2019 Canadian draft picks suit up in game action this season. Noah Robinson and Hakeem Johnson have played regular roles on special teams while Mario Villamizar and Surrey native Jamel Lyles have also seen reps on offence. Having solid Canadian content is what separates the contenders from the pretenders in this league and the Lions have perhaps their best young crop of nationals in years.

In Conclusion 

The hard work on improving in 2020 has already begun for GM Ed Hervey and his brass. They understand that Grey Cup championships are the true measuring stick and although there are some good pieces already in place, the focus now rests on finishing the job. Having perhaps the best quarterback in the league at the helm- Reilly led the CFL in passing yards before his wrist injury- gives them all of the motivation they need to build a contender for years to come.

Matt Baker: