Johnson: No crouching Lions or hidden dragons here
B.C. Lions are no shrinking violet despite what some will have you believe
Rick Campbell wouldn’t put a credit-card down payment on a retirement condo time-share on Italy’s Amalfi Coast over the phone, either.
“Uh, uh, I’m not falling for that,” the Stamps defensive co-ordinator tut-tutted with a what-sort-of-rube-do-you-take-me-for admonishing wag of an index finger.
“No way. I don’t buy it.
“They’ve been very good all year.
“Sometimes teams go through ebbs and flows, score more points or less, but at the end of the day of they win games, have a lot of capable guys capable of causing you all kinds of headaches and at the heart of it all a quarterback who’s as good as there is in this league.”
To all those whispers that the B.C. Lions’ offence as an entity, and reigning Most Outstanding Player quarterback Travis Lulay in particular, isn’t giving off quite the same lethal shimmer as a year ago?
Try peddling such flim-flam elsewhere.
“Maybe those people are singling out a game or something,” reckoned a mystified Campbell. “Could it be the Regina game they’re basing that on? Hey, a lot of people have had trouble in that park, loud crowd getting you off balance.
“Travis hasn’t changed. He still makes good decisions and uses his legs well. There’ll be four or five times a game where he bails them out on second and long when he runs for a first down and keeps a drive going. That can be very frustrating, very demoralizing, to a defence.”
Before the loss at Mosaic, and since, the Leos’ attack has come in for a fair bit of stick this season, languishing as it does below the waterline, fifth, in points scored. And Lulay, as the choreographer, is absorbing his share.
Truth is, he is on pace to top the 4,815 yards and equal the 32 touchdowns he tossed in securing MOP laurels in 2011. His QB rating, 98.1, and passing percentage, 65.4, are actually higher than last season’s 95.8 and 58.1, respectively, and he’s already scrambled for more yards.
OK, maybe he hasn’t been seemed as swashbuckling and the massive expectations built up over B.C.’s rampage to the Grey Cup a year ago probably set perceptions slightly out of whack. But, really, where’s the drop-off?
Why the lack of Lulay-love?
“I guess that’s part of the deal, right?” he told esteemed Vancouver Province colleague Ed Willes last week. “But I’d rather have it this way, with expectations, than the other way around.
“We’re an offence. We’d love to score 40 every night. But we love it a lot more when we’re winning 19-18 instead of losing 44-42.
“Part of it has been our (CFL best) defence. We’re often playing with the lead and it’s just smart football. We’re playing the situation and the need or desire isn’t there to take shots down the field when you’ve got a 10-point lead.”
The Leos would take 19-18 in their top-of-the-table staredown against the Stamps at BC Place right now and be well satisfied.
“I wouldn’t say it’s them playing bad or Lulay playing bad, it’s just that defences evolve,” reasoned Stamps’ chaos-inducing rush end Charleston Hughes. “Teams aren’t playing the same type of defences against them as a last year. People are adjusting. They’re seeing new looks, which is what always happens when you’ve had a lot of success.
“Lulay, as a young quarterback, made great decisions with the ball last year, decisions that veteran quarterbacks make. And he’s still making ‘em. I can’t understand why anybody’d be down on ’em.
“They are first in the league, right?”
Right. And that won’t change until Saturday evening, at the earliest.
Simplifying the trouble somewhat are the anticipated absences of both B.C.’s super receivers, Geroy Simon and Arland Bruce. Simon is the effortless Astaire to Bruce’s frenetic, athletic Gene Kelly. Both great. They just kill you in different ways.
“It has to make somewhat of a difference,” hedged Calgary’s veteran corner Keon Raymond. “Just their knowledge of the game would be missed. I mean, these are top, top receivers. There isn’t a look they haven’t seen, a trick they haven’t pulled. But those guys replacing them? I know they’ve had Geroy and Arland in their ear every day on the practice field and in the film room. So they’ve been well schooled.
“They’ve still got plenty of weapons. Games aren’t won on paper, on what people say. Just a few weeks ago, they opened up a can on Montreal. So they’re still capable of doing it, if you give them the opportunity.”
Chief among those weapons is tailback Andrew Harris, bucking to become the first player to lead his team in both rushing AND receiving since Leo legend Willie (The Wisp) Fleming back in the ’60s. In his vast versatility, he’s become football’s answer to the Home Hardware Handyman. Harris can fix anything on a touch of the ball. With a run. A reception. A block. You name it.
“Those guys, Lulay and Harris, are obviously the two key components,” said Campbell. “When you work out the amount of yards they account for on their offence, that’s where they do a lot of their damage. (Harris) checking the ball down and him running for a first down can really take the sting out of you. It hurts as a defence when you cover receivers downfield on second-and-long they still get a first down because of something that’s initiated near the line of scrimmage.
“All I know is, we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Yeah, but what about this cockeyed notion that Lulay and the Lions’ attack is, somehow, for some reason, lessened since last year?
Rick Campbell shakes his head, disbelievingly.
“Sorry,” he replies. “You can’t sell that to me, no matter how hard you try.”
The man was, after all, born in 1970. Not yesterday.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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