After over two decades in professional football, Jason Tucker knows the drill. You can’t simply replace the production of your top playmaker with one individual. As Tucker’s receiving core continues to prepare for life without Lucky Whitehead for at least one game, he can take solace in the fact he has more than one guy who can step up.
Simply put, they will need it for this critical clash with Calgary on Saturday. And pardon the pun, but Tucker considers the team ‘Lucky’ to have great depth at the position.
“We have a lot of guys who have different attributes; they do something different on the field. So, when you plug a guy in you know what his strengths and weaknesses are and you just utilize that,” said Tucker following practice on Tuesday.
This Lions team has certainly had its share of injuries on both sides of the ball. There never is a good time for someone of Whitehead’s caliber to go down, especially when he was leading the CFL in receiving yards and giving an extra jolt to a Lions’ offence that was seeking a little more creativity entering 2021.
But Tucker and offensive coordinator Jordan Maksymic still have a group led by the likes of Bryan Burnham, Lemar Durant, Jevon Cottoy and Shaq Johnson. Many teams across the CFL would certainly envy those names on a depth chart.
“The good thing about coming here and looking at the group I had was that it is in fact, a good group,” added the receivers coach.
“If one guy goes down, we have someone ready to step in. Lemar is now healthy, he was doing some good things before he went down. So this is perfect timing.”
Inching closer to 100 per cent after dealing with foot and groin issues the last couple of games, Durant is embracing the challenge to step up against his old team.
“What he brings to the table, that speed, you probably don’t have that anywhere in the league right now and if you do, it’s few and far between,” said Durant.
“The thing is, we’ve got stacked receivers. We’ve got people who can fill those spots, might not be able to do exactly the same thing he brought, but we have some people who can come in and bring a different element. Whatever we come up with roster-wise, we’re going to be okay.”
Expect Burnham to also ramp up his game even more as the quest for a playoff spot intensifies. He led all Lions with 82 yards after Whitehead went down early in the October 1st loss to Winnipeg. He also enters this week fifth in the CFL with 556 yards and is just 240 yards shy of moving past Mike Trevathan into 5th spot amongst all-time Lions.
“It’s been a big treat,” said Tucker of coaching number 16.
“I get to see him and all of these guys in action. Burnham’s been doing it a long time, he’s Mr. Consistent and he’s going to make plays for you. That’s what you’re looking for. We’ve got guys that have been stepping up and making those plays as well.”
One of those guys who has stepped up his American rookie Keon Hatcher who first came onto the roster after Dominique Rhymes went down with an injury in week four at Ottawa. Hatcher represented one of the squad’s most improved players from the beginning to end of training camp and has now reaped the benefits with a regular spot in the offence. He could perhaps get some more targets in Whitehead’s absence.
“He’s done a great job. Some of those guys, all they have to do is get used to this game,” explained Tucker.
“It’s just like me when I first came up here, getting used to the waggle and some of those other nuances and then it’s just football again. He’s been doing it his whole life. It’s just football. Now you just let your athletic ability and your talent show.”
DeVier Posey was re-signed to the squad last week and made his first practice appearance on Tuesday but it remains to be seen when he will get his first game action in 2021.
And knowing the great competitor Lucky is, you can expect him to be pushing the coaches and doctors for some practice reps. as soon as he feels his hand starts to feel normal again.
“I told him to sit down and just wait,” laughed Tucker.
“He can come to meetings and do all of but that stuff but wait until the doctor says you’re good to go.”
Lucky and the team will be better for it. In the meantime, Tucker’s group of receivers that are available will have their chance to shine.