VANCOUVER - First-year starting safety Cauchy Muamba of the B.C. Lions was named the CFL’s Canadian Player of the Week in midseason after a two-interception performance against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
That shining outing was a far cry from the end of the season, however, when Muamba demonstrated that he still had lots to learn.
When Muamba and the Lions were burned on the second play from scrimmage in the West Division final on a deep throw by Calgary Stampeder quarterback Kevin Glenn, the effect sowed nervousness and indecision among the team’s defensive backs, creating a state of doubt and frustration from which they never recovered. The picture was left of veteran Korey Banks gesticulating wildly, ranting at the bollixed coverage and directing his dissatisfaction at Muamba, who took on a lot of blame for the Nov. 18 flop at BC Place Stadium.
Now a pending free agent (as of Feb. 15), there is no guarantee Muamba wants to return to be the whipping boy again. The 34-29 loss to Calgary is likely to cost veteran cornerback Byron Parker, who struggled as mightily as Muamba, his job as well. He probably won’t be alone.
It’s still only early December, but the Lions can start hanging out the Help Wanted sign. And help might not be far away.
Calgary’s starting safety Eric Fraser is one of 10 pending free agents from the Stampeders whose background alone sparks speculation that the Lions would be interested. Fraser grew up in Burnaby, played community football in Coquitlam and North Delta before he graduated from Burnaby Central high school to the Central Michigan Chippewas.
The two-year starter was Calgary’s first pick (eighth overall) in the 2009 CFL draft, and he’s represented by Dan Vertlieb, the Vancouver area player agent who has a number of clients on the Lions, among them Travis Lulay, Geroy Simon and Shawn Gore.
Neither the Lions nor Vertlieb can speak to the potential fit at this point, and Fraser is reluctant to say anything either, except to state that his priority is to find offseason work of a non-football nature, in Calgary.
“I’m looking for something in the oil and gas industry, something to do with management or logistics,” Fraser said. “As for football, I’m just going to let my agent work out all that stuff. I haven’t looked around that much to see what’s out there. But I’m not worried about it. That’s (free agency) still a ways off. I’ve got a lot of time.”
Fraser said he’s “grown to love Calgary” and wants to sit down and work out a deal with the Stampeders, despite playing out his option. If that is the case, why did he do it?
“It just gives you a little bit more flexibility and negotiating power,” he explained.
Still, Fraser knows the Stampeders have another player waiting in the wings -- Keenan MacDougall, a rookie from the Saskatchewan Huskies -- who has a lot of upside. He returned a fumble recovery 63 yards for a touchdown in his first professional game as a replacement for the injured Fraser.
“He’s (MacDougall) pretty fast, pretty physical,” Fraser said. “I think he’ll project to being a good player. They also have another kid, Adam Berger (a 2012 draft pick from Simon Fraser), on the way.”
The Lions do have some other options, among them J.R. LaRose, the team’s former starting safety who gave way to Muamba and contributed significantly on special teams last season. His re-signing was announced Thursday, along with non-import linebackers Jason Arakgi and Joash Gesse.
But Fraser, who’s shown he’s up to the job, could be just what the Lions need: a safer choice at safety.
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