B.C. Lions on receiving end of star experience
Future Hall of Famers Geroy Simon, Arland Bruce are healthy, hungry and expected to be clutch performers
B.C. Lions receiver Arland Bruce in action during a practise at BC Place Stadium on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, in advance of Sunday's CFL West Division final against the Calgary Stampeders.
Photograph by: Nick Procaylo, PNG
VANCOUVER — There will come a day, perhaps not so far down the road, when the collective experience of Arland Bruce and Geroy Simon will be more of a memory than a useful asset in a playoff game — too dangerous to lean on, in case it breaks.
But that day, the B.C. Lions say, is not yet.
Ask quarterback Travis Lulay what he wants on his flanks, running patterns out of the slot, finding gaps in the coverage, making tough catches over the middle against the Calgary Stampeders in Sunday’s West Division Final at BC Place: youthful potential or proven clutch.
Ask head coach Mike Benevides if there is any hesitation to start Simon, who’s had to carefully manage the wear and tear on his body down the stretch, and Bruce, who’s back after a five-week concussion hiatus, and the coach doesn’t quite laugh, but it’s close.
Old-ish they are, undeniably — Simon is 37, Bruce turns 35 on the Friday of Grey Cup week — but what they bring to the table, the coach and the quarterback both say, is more than enough.
And they’ll take their chances on the durability factor.
“No, those guys are our starters. They’re playing,” Benevides said Tuesday, though there really hadn’t been much doubt. “There’s no need to hold (that information) back. They’re both healthy. Geroy got to play in the Calgary game (next-to-last week of the season), got some game speed. Arland’s been able to practice at high velocity. So to get those two veterans in place and let them play is a huge benefit to us.”
Lulay didn’t want to disrespect the young receivers who filled in so admirably while Simon and Bruce, both injured against Saskatchewan on Sept. 29, were out.
“To be honest, I had all the faith in the world in the other guys, too, I really did — and I would, if that were the case (Sunday) — but the veteran guys, something about a guy who’s been there before adds a little something to the mix,” said Lulay, who himself is coming off a fairly long stretch of very little game action.
There was never any doubt about Simon, the CFL’s all-time leader in receiving yards, author of arguably the quietest superstar career in the league’s history.
Bruce, though, came down to the wire. Unlike Calgary quarterback Drew Tate’s Sunday memory loss that was hastily airbrushed away by Monday morning, Bruce’s symptoms took five weeks to go away.
“I can’t speak for anybody else, I can only speak for myself and my health,” he said. “Five weeks is what it took for me to recover and do the things I need to do — to take myself through the strenuous work, get the blood pressure up to my head, see how I feel, then see if it calms down through the day.
“So I did all the things I needed to do, and I’m just thankful I can come out here and be part of this team. I’m getting my work in every day, and that’s all this is about — I feel like the other stuff is just a distraction, because if I don’t feel right, I’m going to let the team and the coaches know. I’ve been playing pro football for 11 years, and I understand that if you’re not right, you don’t jeopardize the team.”
The comfort level these two Hall of Fame-bound receivers provide Lulay is immeasurable.
“Aside from the skill set on the field,” he said of Simon, “there’s just that calming presence, the confidence. You look at a guy who’s made hugely critical plays at the most critical times of the year and you know that when the time comes, that’s how he’s going to react.
“And if things are off for a drive or two, and you can sense the group wants to panic, the more veteran guys you have, the more you can calm down and focus on the next play.”
And as for Bruce, even with just a few days of full practice ...
“The last two days have given me a ton of confidence, the way he came out and plugged right in, no assignment errors, and he’s kept himself physically ready,” Lulay said.
“I know he hadn’t been taking a lot of reps because he has to be smart about that, when he was recovering, but you can see it this week: he’s playing really fast, and really confident. That hunger is there. You can tell he knows it’s playoff time.”
Lulay said he supposed it was natural for fans to worry about what happens the first time Bruce takes a big hit — the Sidney Crosby, hold-your-breath reaction — but as a quarterback, he can’t.
“You have to trust the process. I think especially in his case, they were extra careful with the way they treated [his concussion],” he said. “It’s not going to affect the way I play. If he were to get dinged and have to come to the sidelines, yeah ... but that could happen if you’d had nothing before.”
“I bring two Grey Cup championships, an all-star mentality, a Hall of Fame mentality each time I walk on the field. I bring a confidence level, to make you step your game up,” said Bruce, and if that sounds supremely cocky, it’s not far off Benevides’ own sense of how the Lions have to approach the game.
“We don’t focus so much on (Calgary),” said the first-year head coach. “We don’t care about them. If we play well, it really doesn’t matter what the hell the opponent does.”
Even so, he asked the veteran players — Simon among them — to relate their experiences from past playoff successes, and failures, too, in hopes of avoiding the West Final stumbling block that has tripped up so many first-place finishers.
“It’s not magic for anybody,” Benevides said. “And that’s one thing I asked guys to do was research their own histories of when they’ve had success and when they haven’t. And the 2005 and 2007 guys (teams that finished first and lost the West Final), those are the guys I asked to stand up. It’s easy to talk about successes, let’s understand from all our experiences, and I asked them to stand up to the group and explain how they felt and why they thought that occurred.
“When Byron Parker stands up and says, ‘I’ve been to five Eastern Finals and I have not been to a Grey Cup,’ what does that tell you? So when I fall back on players’ experiences, and you ask about veterans and veteran leadership, those are things that these young guys have no clue about.”
But the old guys do. Long may they run.
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