Buck’s back to provide Lions ‘leadership’
Citing a lack of attitude and urgency to get the job done, GM Wally Buono calls on the past to boost team’s future
Buck Pierce (right) and Travis Lulay were on opposing sides when Pierce's Bombers lost to Lulay's Lions in the 2011 Grey Cup game at BC Place Stadium. Now Pierce is coming back to don Lions orange in a backup role to Lulay.
Photograph by: John Woods, Postmedia News files
METRO VANCOUVER — If Buck Pierce could play on the offensive line, he might be a greater asset to Travis Lulay than he’ll be as a backup quarterback.
In fact, if he could get to the other team’s quarterback, he’d be an equally pleasant addition.
Or if the idea were only to park him in the corner of Lulay’s eye, and give the Canadian Football League’s erstwhile outstanding player a gentle, mental nudge, that might help, too.
And if a change in the dressing room was the aim — and maybe it is, because the B.C. Lions’ leadership group has done such an average job of leading during this bi-polar football season — then adding a nine-year veteran of the CFL wars who has basically been nothing but blood and guts and effort his whole career couldn’t hurt.
It is only the prospect of actually putting Buck Pierce into the game and handing him the keys to the offence for any period of time that makes avid followers of the 6-4 Lions quake in their Birkenstocks.
Not because they don’t like Pierce. He is 100-per cent likable.
It’s just that, like the B.C. coaches and management who finally cut the cord four seasons ago as Pierce began to follow the concussion-plagued path of his predecessor, Dave Dickenson — only at a much younger age — the Lions’ faithful stopped trusting him, too.
And he’s not getting any healthier, the more mileage accumulates on his odometer.
So let’s narrow this down. He’s not big enough to block, or sack quarterbacks (more’s the pity). He’s not back to take Travis Lulay’s job, although spelling him every once in a while when the starter gets into a rut is not out of the question.
Ergo, it must be ....
“We’re looking at a player with Buck’s experience to come in and give us some depth — and hopefully give us a little more leadership, too,” Lions GM Wally Buono admitted Monday, a day after trading non-import receiver Akeem Foster to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to bring the 31-year-old Pierce back to the team that gave him his start in the CFL.
“We’ve been up-and-down, up-and-down too much this year, and whether that’s inconsistent play or just sometimes lack of leadership, I hope Buck can help us there.”
“He’s a pro, a great teammate, and there’s some maturity things he can bring to our entire team, not just the offence,” said head coach Mike Benevides.
Pierce played parts of five seasons in Vancouver from 2005-2009, and in 34 starts, had a 21-12-1 record. Not chopped liver. The Blue Bombers got to the Grey Cup with him in 2011.
But his vulnerability to injuries was breathtaking in scope, and his penchant for holding the ball to make the play at the cost of his brain matter got to be the same kind of problem Dickenson eventually became, when his frequent absences — more and more often because of concussion symptoms — threw the B.C. quarterback position into chaos (see Printers, Casey, 2009-10).
“That was as a starter,” Buono said. “The whole impetus (for releasing Pierce after the 2009 season) was that we were not willing to make Buck a starter because we just felt we needed to have stability. This situation is totally different.”
Pierce’s isn’t. His litany of injuries continued, Sami Salo-esque, through his career in Winnipeg to the point where he was demoted to third string this season. So when Buono called the Bombers last week to see whether Pierce might be available, he said, “they were very receptive to it.”
While it’s true that the Lions, with short-yardage QB Thomas DeMarco backing up, might have been one injury to Lulay away from free-fall in the standings, there are no guarantees with Pierce, either.
Lulay has taken some horrific licks recently. If that’s the kind of protection the Lions’ meal ticket is getting, what’s going to happen if Pierce has to play?
“We’re not banking on Buck coming here and being our saviour,” said Buono. “But with the kind of defences we’re seeing in the league now, highly aggressive, a quarterback that has experience dealing with that pressure and the expectations that go with it is going to help us.”
“He’s a guy that knows our culture and knows our system, and I know this: that if the ball had to go in his hand, he could operate the offence,” said Benevides. “He is a warrior, he’s going to fight his tail off and he is a winner. We’re not expecting him to take 60 snaps a game.”
It keeps coming back, though, to leadership. When Benevides, in answer to a question, allowed that “it’s getting better” and “there’s no question there was a void,” he was admitting that it’s been an issue.
Call it the Angus Reid Factor, because the offensive line has been a lottery without the longtime heart-and-soul centre, who may or may not play a down this season. But as much as his ability and smarts, the Lions have missed his passion.
“Hamilton came here, didn’t win, they went home and had an attitude,” said Buono. “We came back after the Montreal loss with an attitude. But you can’t pick and choose when you’re going to play with attitude. And right now our club is picking and choosing. And that’s a dangerous thing to do.“We’re professionals, and I don’t want to say it’s ... tragic that you have to send messages, but there should be an urgency. There’s eight games left in the season, and we’ve been on a very rhythmic kind of procedure. One good game, one so-so-game. We’ve been really good at home and really average, or less than average, on the road. That’s not the way we envision it, and whether this is sending a message or not, I guess the message I want to send is: we need help, and Buck can help us.”
Buono said that the club’s appearance of indifference at times is, in fact, quite characteristic of a veteran-laden team. Benevides agrees.
“When you go through a season where you’re 13-5 and you’re the best top-to-bottom and you fail in the end (losing the 2012 West Final at home to Calgary), or you go 0-5 (in 2011) and you turn it around and get it done, that’s going to permeate in their minds,” said the head coach.
“But if the real season starts after Labour Day, well, guess what, guys? It’s after Labour Day. We need to play our best football, and we’re going to add players to make us better.”
Buck Pierce might be able to help with the attitude, but physically, the Lions are getting beaten on the line of scrimmage, where Wally Buono the coach always knew games were won and lost.
Watch for the NFL cuts. Bet you a Buck he hasn’t forgotten.
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