When it takes until week five for your first ‘bounce back’ opportunity, that usually means you’re off to a pretty good start. And had you told this year’s version of the BC Lions they would be 3-1 with all of their wins coming within the West Division- including an impressive victory in Winnipeg to boot- they would have simply said: ‘ Where do we sign?’
While there is no doubt certain elements that need to be cleaned up following a 45-24 defeat in Toronto, Lucky Whitehead and company find themselves in a pretty good spot ahead of a Sunday clash with the 2-1-0 Montreal Alouettes at Save-On-Foods Field at BC Place (4:00 pm, TSN/RDS, AM730).
“It’s good, especially getting those big wins on the road. It’s super huge,” said Whitehead on the early results.
“We obviously want to protect our house and stay undefeated there but like you said, it’s definitely big and definitely important for the long haul.”
A major talking point heading into this one will be the opportunity for quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. to redeem himself. The CFL’s passing leader with 1,249 yards, Adams Jr. has certainly gained more respect from his teammates on how he has maintained the ability to look ahead and not dwell on the past.
“He prepares like it’s a championship game every week and obviously, we help him out with that giving him that confidence, that boost,” added Whitehead.
“I’m excited for him to come back and get us in that W column.”
The quarterback himself also candidly credited his playmakers in an interview with the Sekeres and Price show this week:
“These guys are all professionals, they’re not here for no reason,” Adams said.
“They stay locked in. Even if they’re not getting many reps in practice, they’re going through their scripts on the sideline. They’re going through their scripts, they’re getting mental reps. Next thing you know, boom they are up. All of these guys are great players, great human beings, they all work hard and they deserve what they’re getting.”
Adams Jr. will no doubt be excited to have his three 1,000-yard receivers in Whitehead, Dominique Rhymes and Keon Hatcher all in the same lineup for the first time this season. Whitehead himself has been waiting for this moment after his hamstring injury kept him on the shelf last week.
“We’ve been talking about it, I actually said something yesterday about all being back in the huddle together for the first time since training camp,” said the speedster Whitehead.
“It’s going to be fun. We cheer each other on like (there is) no tomorrow. I can’t wait to get out there, get in the end zone and we do our celebrations.”
The other big lineup change comes in the backfield where newcomer Shaun Shivers suits up in place of the injured Taquan Mizzell (knee). Added to the practice roster less than two weeks ago, the 5’7, 187-pound back has fit in nicely with the first-team offence while also demonstrating a strong ability to catch passes and pick up yards after contact.
“I think I’ve picked up the offence very fast and the game very fast too, so I’m just excited to get out there and play tomorrow,” said Shivers.
“It’s a big adjustment because there is a lot of motion. Sometimes, I get in the habit of standing still like I’m back in the US playing football but now it’s not like that. You can move around without getting called for a false start. I think that’s pretty cool.”
Shivers attended rookie camp with the Seattle Seahawks in May and suited up in 43 games at Auburn from 2018-21.
Wide receiver Austin Mack has been a key contributor and solid target for Cody Fajardo. His 325 receiving yards trailed only Winnipeg’s Dalton Schoen for the CFL lead while he had a two-touchdown performance in a week three win at Hamilton. Containing Mack will be a nice test for a Lions secondary that has responded well in tough situations.
4 Lions To Watch
QB Vernon Adams Jr. #8- always a pro and consummate leader by example, Adams Jr. has owned last week’s miscues and is ready to lead the squad back into the win column.
WR Justin McInnis # 18- the Canadian target has become Mr. Reliable when the offence is in need of a big play to flip the field position.
DB Quincy Mauger # 36– the second-year Lion has not let last year’s injury troubles hinder his spot in the starting lineup. Mauger brings a physical element that has helped the defence cook through four games. This week he moves down to SAM linebacker in place of the injured Manny Rugamba. The safety spot is filled by National Adrian Greene.
DL Josh Banks # 92– ‘Night train’ has quietly been an integral piece of the puzzle in both stopping the run and freeing up space for rushers Mathieu Betts and Sione Teuhema.
Adams Jr. has thrown at least one touchdown pass in his last eight Lion starts dating back to last season. In addition to his impressive numbers, the Lions’ offence was on top in net yards (392.5 per game) and first downs (94) at the start of week five action.
Rick Campbell climbing the win chart: With a 20-12 record as head coach of the Lions, Campbell is two shy of Greg Mohns for eighth spot on the club’s all-time list and five behind Eagle Keys for seventh.
Manny Rugamba (ribs) will sit out this week meaning Quincy Mauger slides down to SAM linebacker. The starting safety spot will be filled by second-year National Adrian Greene. Not a bad test for the St. Mary’s product against Mack and the Alouettes attack. Rookie draft pick Siraman Bagayogo comes on in a special teams role while American linebacker Brooks Parker is back on after sitting out one game.
Place your Betts: Mathieu Betts leads the CFL with seven sacks and has recorded at least one in the last four games. The last Canadian to finish atop the CFL sack list in a season? Who else but Brent Johnson? 2006 was the year.
The Lions are a remarkable 17-2 in home games against the Alouettes since the turn of the century. The only losses came in 2000 and 2015.
The stingy Alouette defence has not allowed more than 17 points in a game this season. This is their best start since 2004 when they allowed just 32 points in the first three contests. This week five clash will feature the CFL’s two-best pass defences, 182.5 yards per game for the Lions and 233 for Montreal.
With COVID and more emphasis on divisional play making an impact over the last few years, Sunday will mark the Alouettes’ first visit to Vancouver since October 2019. That night it was TJ Lee putting the exclamation point on a goal-line stand to preserve a 25-23 Lion victory which kept their slim playoff hopes alive in game 14. Those dreams would end two weeks later in Edmonton.