Call them whatever you want. Diamonds in the rough. Surprises. Hidden gems. You can scan the current roster and quickly realize names like Elimimian, Lulay, Arceneaux, Burnham and Yell, just to name a few, were simply those when they broke from their first training camp up north. With that in mind, we are pleased to present our first annual “Baker’s Dozen.”
BCLions.com Digital Content Coordinator Matt Baker gives you a list of 12 first year standouts worth watching as camp breaks. This list is devoted to players who had not previously played in the CFL before camp opened in Kamloops three weeks ago. These are in alphabetical order.
The product of Texas Tech has been perhaps the most athletic defensive player in this camp. Awe’s versatility gives him the inside track to replace the void left by Adam Bighill. He started in the middle for last week’s pre-season game in Calgary and has formed a nice platoon with veteran Tony Burnett at Bighill’s old weak side spot. Awe has proven to be a truly great find by Director of US Scouting Ryan Rigmaiden.
If you have read our daily reports, a constant theme you might be picking up is the quality of solid defensive linemen recruited for this camp. Boatright has recovered nicely from an early injury and made the discussion at defensive end interesting. The only question: does his birth certificate make him expendable? The import options are not lacking at his spot on the depth chart. That doesn’t take away the fact he has impressed the coaches.
We told you how excited we were about the former German League star back at April mini-camp in Surrey. He hasn’t disappointed against stiffer competition. When it comes to backing up Chris Rainey in the return game, Davis looks to be a viable option. His ability to play receiver, running back and even defensive back could make it worth keeping him around beyond this week.
Any player who is the centrepiece of a Jovan Olafioye trade will have some extra scrutiny. Foucault handled that very well and looked to get more and more comfortable after two years in the NFL with Carolina. The University of Montreal product appears to be ready to play left guard and form a nice tandem at that position with 2016 first round pick Charles Vaillancourt. Foucault also played at tackle in Carolina and could slide over if need be.
It remains unclear how many games, if any, Jeremiah Johnson will have off in 2017. Should the Lions choose to start someone else at the tailback position, Harris would be fully equipped to handle the touches. His 38-yard touchdown run in Calgary offered just a small sample size of his explosiveness out of the backfield. He has gradually picked up the offence even more before the end of camp.
It certainly hasn’t been easy to stand out amongst some of the other linebackers, but Herdman has approached camp with a chip on his shoulder. That would be the result of, by his own admission, less than stellar performances at his SFU Pro Day and the CFL Combine. He is built like a physical linebacker and his football IQ his is strongest trait. Although it may take a year of leaning on the practice roster, his future could be very bright.
You knew the seventh overall pick from May’s CFL Draft would be included. After owning the National Combine in Regina, Luke has managed to perform well amongst the excellent crop of defensive linemen in Kamloops. It remains to be seen if a Canadian will start at the position, but you can expect Luke to be a big factor in the interior at some point in 2017.
Speaking of that ratio, a major early change was the desire to start an American at the safety position. Steven Clarke has performed well after his injury rehab, but the explosive McDonald has made things interesting. He showed no signs of slowing down after his impressive mini-camp. The former Oakland Raider could also slide over to halfback.
We gave him the offensive game ball after the three-day mini-camp to open things up. The lanky receiver showed some of that brilliance with the veterans and made a couple of key plays in Saturday’s live scrimmage. His ability to get vertical allows him to make some plays that other receivers wouldn’t.
The product of North Carolina State has has used size to his advantage. That ability to stretch the field could go a long way in helping this offence accomplish what they want to in 2017. Morgan has learned the playbook and developed a rapport with the QBs and fellow receivers.
If DeQuin Evans has earned a starting spot at defensive end, Shirley has made a strong case to back him up. With Craig Roh lined up on the other the possibilities of having two formidable pass rushers on each side will help them achieve the goal of getting more pressure on the QB in 2017. Shirley was a standout in Saturday night’s live scrimmage and has made life tough on the opposing tackles in practice as well.
As the club searches for the next great Canadian receiver, Vandervoort won’t be pressured to put up Jason Clermont numbers just yet. His first training camp has been anything but a disappointment. Although he would be the first to tell you he needs to get better in game action, small sample size or not, the McMaster product has shown he has great hands. His big body also allows him to excel catching passes throw underneath and in short yardage situations.
Most Improved Returnees
Wally Buono reminded us the other day how Forde has improved every year he has been here. He made the most of his reps. in pre-season play and will be counted on in certain packages on the interior of that defensive line. The improvement is evident.
It’s easy to see why the coaching staff is high on the wide receiver from London, Ontario. After getting on the active roster toward the end of last season, Johnson has made the most of his second go around at camp and bounced back nicely from a tweaked hamstring suffered in the early stages. His quickness can make life tough on opposing defenders.
The last couple days have seen the 2nd round pick from 2016 emerge as the starter at field corner in various packages. Like many other areas the options in the secondary are not thin. Thompson has more than reaped the benefits of his hard work in the offseason.
Bake’s Final Takes On The First Years
I admit I went in with some pretty high expectations, especially after some of the standouts from April OTA in Surrey. I don’t think it’s a reach to suggest a majority of these defensive linemen can be starters in this league right now. Obviously they won’t all achieve that here, but it’s a good problem for the staff to have as they continue the process of whittling the roster down to 56 before June 24th.
Honourable mentions should go out to QB Alex Ross and DL Marquis Jackson. Although quarterback is not the most pressing need on this roster, the product of Coastal Carolina University has earned the number three job behind Jonathon Jennings and Travis Lulay.
His scrambling ability has gotten better throughout camp as well. Jackson picked up the defensive schemes rather quick after leaving camp in the early stages to get married.
I look forward to being back at BC Place on Friday night. It has been a long time coming and you should all be excited to see some of this young talent in person. If you don’t have a ticket yet, what are you waiting for? Stay tuned for our final training camp recap before practices ends at Noon on Wednesday.
Matt Baker: firstname.lastname@example.org