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February 15, 2018

Pieces Coming Together… But Puzzle Not Yet Complete

Over the last two days, Ed Hervey has added some beef on both sides of the line of scrimmage, re-worked a couple of spots in the secondary and even strengthened the always important Canadian depth of his football club.

And for a guy who masters the art of not getting too excited when things are good or too glum when it goes the other way, the first year Lions’ boss had a hard time containing his satisfaction as day two of CFL free agency was winding down.

Did it go 100 percent as planned? It never does. But you can’t deny the first-year BC Lions’ GM addressed a couple of pretty important needs when the signing period officially opened for business on Monday.

“We had been stressing all offseason we wanted to address the offensive and defensive lines and our top two priorities and top two targets were Joel Figueroa and Euclid Cummings,” said Hervey.

“We were quite pleased that those guys were available during free agency and there for us to be able to state our case as to why BC was the place they should continue their careers in 2018.”

The former Eskimos’ receiver and top football executive has made an early habit of luring some of his former players to the west coast. And although the number one consideration is just how well these newcomers fit in, Hervey’s knowledge of them from their time in the green and gold are certainly an asset, especially when it comes to those who will be protecting Jonathon Jennings and Travis Lulay.

 

“Joel is a very underrated offensive lineman. He’s one of the most underrated players in this league,” explained Hervey.

“I was quite pleased during the last few weeks when his name was flying under the radar and no one was talking about him. On the flip side of that, he can play right or left tackle, he’s extremely physical, smart and passionate about the game. The last couple of years he has been Edmonton’s best tackle by far, in my opinion. For him to be available was quite a surprise.”

In Cummings, the defensive line rotation is the perfect compliment to fellow offseason additions Gabriel Knapton and Odell Willis. The Georgia Tech product recorded eight sacks in 2017 and now gives the unit a much-needed kick-start.

“Disruptive, physical against the run and very active against the pass,” said the GM on Cummings.

“He has the ability to get to the quarterback, but he plays every down. Having him available was big because it addressed our concerns on the defensive line, primarily in the interior. He gives us depth there, but his upside is shooting upwards.”

Like we mentioned, it never goes exactly the way you want it to go. Case in point: Hervey tried hard to convince Chandler Fenner it was worth staying in orange. Instead, last year’s likely candidate for the most improved player on the Lions’ defence opted for change, and more financial security, with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Loucheiz Purifoy was not offered a new deal and was quickly locked up by the Ottawa Redblacks. As of late Tuesday, Ronnie Yell was still unsigned. Hervey and company responded by adding Garry Peters and A.J. Jefferson.

Then late Tuesday afternoon saw the addition of Otha Foster, who had a productive 2016 season in Saskatchewan before testing waters in the NFL. All three are expected to give the club options going into training camp.

“With the limited salary cap, there is going to be give and take. You give to the D-line and take from the secondary; just as it is on the offensive side; give to the O-Line and take away from the wideouts. It’s just part of the process. We were interested in getting Chandler done, but we’re excited about Garry coming in. Garry is versatile, is a hard-nosed player and has lots of ability. He can play dime, he can play halfback. We’re more excited with what we’re gaining in Garry than we are disappointed in what we lost in Chandler,” said Hervey.

“Otha is a talented and hard-hitting defensive back who can play both secondary spots as well as the nickel position. He brings us significant game-ready experience and is a definite upgrade for our defence.”

Sometimes the more significant signings are the ones that fly under the radar and that’s what Hervey hopes is the case with receiver Cory Watson and former UBC Thunderbirds and Vanier Cup Champions Mitch Barnett and Dominique Termansen.

Watson, the Blue Bombers’ 2011 nominee for CFL Most Outstanding Canadian, should also fill some of the leadership void left by Marco Iannuzzi’s retirement.

The two former T-Birds should, at the very least, help a special teams unit that also sputtered at times in 2017, as well as give the coaching staff some training camp depth at linebacker and defensive back.

“More importantly, it allows us to assess how we will approach the CFL Draft as well,” explained the three-time Grey Cup Champion.

“You get those positions that we may want to draft or consider looking at in the draft and these players do that for us. You can never go wrong adding young Canadian depth to your roster. These are guys that are going to come in, compete and make us better as a football team.”

The evaluation doesn’t stop. Starting with the club’s US free agent camps, the pressure remains to try and uncover those diamonds in the rough. This week is a very small, albeit important, piece to the championship puzzle.

“You’re never satisfied until everything hits the field. We have to give credit to Torey Hunter, Geroy Simon and Neil McEvoy. Those guys have done an excellent job working with me. I can’t continue to talk without giving those guys credit for the work they did. We have a long offseason to go”

Day 3 Update: Pivotal Depth

It was a relatively quieter Thursday at Lions’ headquarters, but that isn’t to say Hervey didn’t get some more ‘pivotal’ work done with the addition of quarterback Cody Fajardo. The move not only provides a better training camp competition (and more storylines) but could also help serve as a nice safety net in the event Travis Lulay is not ready to go once the club returns home from Kamloops on June 7th.

Fajardo scored the winning touchdown- a one-yard plunge- to help take down Saskatchewan in the 2017 Eastern Final before earning a Grey Cup ring the following week. In 2011, he succeeded Colin Kaepernick as the starter at Nevada. Those two are the only quarterbacks in program history to finish their career with over 9,000 yards passing and 3,000 yards rushing.

Hervey’s day three handy work continued with the signing of Keelan Johnson. The defensive back/linebacker had been with the Ottawa Redblacks since late 2016 and led the CFL with 29 special teams tackles last season. This signing should go a long way in helping replace some of that special teams production from Fenner.

The club also officially announced the signings of defensive backs Cauchy Muamba, Mike Dubuisson and defensive lineman Edward Godin. A fifth-round pick of the Lions in 2010, Muamba won a Grey Cup and suited up for 36 games in orange before moving on to Winnipeg in 2013. Dubuisson has spent time with Edmonton and Saskatchewan, seeing most of his action on special teams. Godin was the Lions’ fourth-round selection in 2017 and attended training camp before returning to Laval for his final year of eligibility. Godin won Vanier Cups with the Rouge ‘et Or in 2013 and 2016.

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com