After nearly two weeks of training camp practices, the BC Lions will get their first taste of live game action when they invade Mosaic Stadium to open pre-season. It’s a new chapter on both sides, as Wally Buono makes his official return to coaching following a five-year absence from the sidelines, and Chris Jones runs the show in Saskatchewan after bringing a Grey Cup to Edmonton last season. Buono admits returning to the football mad environment that is Regina, will give him a boost right away. “It’s always an intense place” said the CFL all-time wins leader. “The challenge of the crowd and opposition makes the games exciting, intense and a lot of fun. I’ve always said those fans are always cheering for me in a different way.” Buono once again stressed to his players that this game will go a long way in deciding some of the roster spots up for grabs. All CFL rosters must be reduced to 65 players by Tuesday. Tonight also marks the final pre-season contest at Mosaic Stadium as a new venue with the same name is being constructed right next door. The Lions also visit Mosaic for the final regular season tilt on October 29th, with a July 16th visit in between. Here are some storylines to keep an eye on for tonight’s contest.
All 4 quarterbacks are expected to see some action, with Keith Price and Greg McGhee likely getting longer looks as the battle for number three continues. This is also relatively new ground for Jonathon Jennings, who was in a battle for number three at this time last year. Even with his current status as the starter heading into 2016, he is excited to lace them up Saturday, even if only for a couple series.’ “We’ve been practicing against ourselves a long time, it seems like a month or two,” said the former Saginaw Valley State QB. “We’re excited to go out there and prove what we have been working towards.”As for the challenge of going up against Jones and his aggressive defence, Jennings agrees it’s a good challenge to start with. “It’s always good to get prepared by that in the pre-season. You get looks that you don’t normally expect early on, but it kind of prepares you for what’s to come in the regular season.”
Rookies Get A Chance To Shine
First-year Lions have survived the training camp grind, now the test will be to show their stuff on game day. Brett Blaszko is one of the receivers who has improved since the start of camp. “I’ve been looking forward to this since I started playing football,” Blaszko said. “I’m loose and just excited to have some fun. I’m just hoping to show I can compete and contribute. That’s going to be my job this year, whether it’s on specials or the offence.” The former Calgary Dinos standout is also excited to start his pro career in familiar territory, having played at Mosaic multiple times against the Regina Rams. “I’m used to that stadium and I know how loud it can get there so it will be fun to play there.” Fellow receiver and 2016 draftee Shaq Johnson has also stood out in camp and will get a close look come game time.
Improved Secondary Looks To Make Plays
Thanks to offseason additions such as Mike Edem and Brandon Stewart, the consensus in Kamloops is that the defensive backfield is probably the deepest the Lions have had in quite some time. Non-drafted free agents Chandler Fenner and Loucheiz Purifoy have adjusted well to the Canadian game, while Ronnie Yelland TJ Lee are looking as fast as they have ever been. With Riders’ starting QB Darian Durant getting the night off, there should be plenty of opportunities to show their stuff. “I’m excited to hit a different coloured jersey,” said Edem. “We’ve been going at each other’s throats for two weeks now, so it’s exciting times. We’re looking forward to seeing all the work we’ve put in to come together in a live game situation. If we do our jobs, we’ll be alright.”
Additional Lineup Notes
The return of ‘team 100’ will have to wait one more week as Solomon Elimimian will stay behind and rest.Adrian Clarke is slotted in as the starting middle linebacker next to Adam Bighill. As far as the injury report goes, receivers Nick Moore (hip), Derek Yachison (knee), safety Brennan Van Nistelrooy (ankle), offensive lineman Levy Adcock (knee), defensive lineman Bryant Turner Jr (knee) and defensive back Daroius Lane(hamstring), are all still improving.
You can listen to Saturday’s game on TSN 1040 with Scott Rintoul and Giulio Caravatta. It can be seen on TSN 1 and for viewers south of the border, on ESPN 3.
Download Saturday’s complete roster here.