Lions' Buck will need to come out blasting, if called on
Taking shots in more ways than one is the task in backing top gun Travis
B.C. Lions newest acquisitions quarterback Buck Pierce, left and defensive end Chris Wilson, right, greet each other at the team’s practice facility in Surrey on Tuesday Sept. 10, 2013. Pierce was traded by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to the club and Wilson returns to the CFL after playing several years in the NFL with the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Photograph by: Ric Ernst, PNG
METRO VANCOUVER — The only trouble with these two shootists is that both Travis Lulay and his once-and-again B.C. Lions sidekick, Buck Pierce — who was reintroduced to the club’s familiar old digs in Surrey on Tuesday — live by the quarterbacks’ Code of the West: i.e. sometimes you need to take a shot to get one off.
Sounds noble, and honourable and brave and all that. But it may not be the ideal formula for a long career, especially if the other guys are 75 pounds heavier.
And in these days of the zone blitz, when opponents are routinely sending one more pass rusher than the offence has blockers, the quarterbacks are falling like flies. Anthony Calvillo, Ricky Ray, Drew Tate, to name just a few.
That Edmonton’s Mike Reilly is not in a full-body cast after weeks of brutal punishment is a small miracle all of its own.
Lulay, who at the moment is operating with a torn thumbnail on his throwing hand that may or not still be attached by the time the Montreal Alouettes roll into town for their Sunday matinee at BC Place, has taken a fearful beating at times this year, some of it poor execution on his part, some the offensive line’s fault, and some the fault of not enough schematic horse-sense to turn the bad guys’ blitzes against them.
Enter Pierce, who was the starter here when Lulay was just a glint in Wally Buono’s eye, and who has always been a chronic holder of the ball for a half-second too long, which is why he has been the player to be maimed later (and earlier) pretty much ever since his Canadian Football League career began in 2006.
Reclaimed late last week from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for non-import receiver Akeem Foster in a trade that was hushed until both teams had played their weekend games, Pierce, 31, looked and sounded genuinely happy to be back in the place where his pro career began seven years ago.
And so he should be. He may be only one step closer to playing here for a third-place (6-4) Lions team, but in Winnipeg, it was difficult to keep a stiff upper lip after being demoted from starter to third string on the East’s worst (2-8) team.
“It was a tough situation, not just for me, but with everything going on,” Pierce said Tuesday. “We had a change at president and CEO, general manager, offensive co-ordinator, there were inconsistencies with personnel, just a lot of shuffling around. I dearly care for that organization and everything they’ve done for me, but it was just time for a change, for everybody.
“I mean, I wanted to make sure I handled everything professionally, but deep down, I was ready to play football.”
He may not be quite prepped to do it for keeps yet — the Lions’ playbook isn’t what it was when he was here last in 2009 — but on the other hand, he’d better be ready soon, the way opposing defences are abusing Lulay.
“But that’s always your mindset,” said Pierce, “which is why you’re only as good as your depth. The CFL is known for guys being athletic quarterbacks, and having to take a pounding, do things with their legs.
“This year, I think the way the league’s going, you’re seeing a lot of the (Toronto defensive co-ordinator) Chris Jones philosophy: let’s play cover zero, not just in the red zone, play it when they’re backed up as well and give our team field position.”
“Taking hits is part of the position,” Lulay said witha shrug. “And you can see right now, I think the challenge league-wide is to counter the blitz. You saw Winnipeg get after Saskatchewan this past weekend. We had it from Montreal a few weeks ago, and they’re up again this week.”
That’s why, Lulay said, Job 1 is to find ways to blunt the pass rush.
“It’s not just about my health, it’s about the success of the group,” said the Leos’ franchise player.
“You saw in the (win) against Hamilton in BC Place, they came with some good pressure in the first half, but we were able to hit passes over the top, hit receiver screens, made them pay, slowed down the blitz a little bit, and you can get a little bit more run game going.
“So right now, that’s one of our points of emphasis. And that’s Montreal’s forte, showing guys up front, bringing guys in different gaps, so that’s going to be the game plan, to find ways to counter that stuff.”
If he does need to do more than be an extra pair of veteran’s eyes in the film room, and on the sidelines, Pierce is going to face that same imperative: fire first, or face the barrage.
And if it’s the latter, he must be able to get up again. He says he’s not worried about that, not focussed on just getting rid of the ball to avoid being drilled.
“I mean, you can’t think of it that way,” he said. “That’s where it becomes more schematic, what you have to do offensively to neutralize it. When teams (blitz), they’re vulnerable. If you show you can beat that as an offence, that stuff will let up.
“But there’s times when you need to stand in there and make a play, or run. It doesn’t matter who you are or how long you’ve been in the league or where you’ve been before. This is the CFL, quarterbacks take hits.
“In Winnipeg, earlier this year, they tried to make me more of a pocket guy, more of an NFL guy, throw the ball down the field without running so much, and that kind of took away from what I do well, which is competing, being a football player.”
No one ever accused Buck Pierce of being any less than that.
“You never know what road you’re going to go down, or how your career’s going to end,” he said, “but I’ve always been such a positive guy and I’ve kind of done my own thing, too.”
The Ol’ Buckaroo has been urged to hang up the shootin’ irons more than once.
“A lot of have guys have said, ‘You know, Buck, just ride it out here and go into a coaching gig.’ But as long as there is value for what you do, I’ve always said: ‘You know what? I want to play. I want to help, I want to wear that helmet,’ ” he said.
“There will be a time when I don’t get to do it any more, so I’m thankful I get to do it here.”
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