B.C. Lions welcome Jarious Jackson’s integrity, intelligence back to the den
‘When a guy is voted captain, and he’s not your starting quarterback, that tells you how much the room believes in him,’ head coach Mike Benevides says of his new assistant
VANCOUVER — From the moment he walked in the B.C. Lions’ door, a National Football League cut with the aura of “starting quarterback at Notre Dame” still clinging to him, Jarious Jackson never stopped believing he could do the job as a professional.
The transition didn’t take.
The professionalism did.
Even after seven years as an odd-job man — with the occasional stretch as starter thrown in, if the No. 1 QB was hurt — when Jackson had to leave the Lions for Toronto with equally little hope of displacing Ricky Ray, he believed in himself when most everyone on the outside could only see a career understudy.
So perhaps it’s fitting that in returning to Vancouver to retire as a B.C. Lion, signing a one-day contract Friday but really coming home to be the team’s quarterbacks coach, it is again the outsiders who doubt.
Jarious Jackson is going to teach Travis Lulay how to play quarterback? How to make good decisions, how to throw touch-passes and read defences? These were the obstacles that held Jackson, who had speed and arm strength and courage galore, back from being a CFL starter.
Lulay is already adept at reading and reacting, and makes far more good decisions than bad.
But the outsiders are not going to win this argument.
Because from GM Wally Buono’s sanctum to head coach Mike Benevides’ office to Lulay’s film room to the overwhelming feeling in the players’ den, there are no dissenters: Jarious Jackson has all the qualities that really matter.
“When a guy is voted captain, and he’s not your starting quarterback, that tells you how much the room believes in him,” Benevides said.
“And Travis feels very strongly about him. Jarious has always been someone who can manage disappointment, and adversity, and the stresses of the position.”
“I think playing the position and understanding how to play the position are a little bit different,” Lulay said. “And I don’t want to be critical of J.J. I have a ton of respect for him as a player, but I’ve always liked the way he views the game.
“And I want him to be critical of me, be hard on me, and help me be a better football player. And he will.”
Having signed a $450,000-a-year contract, Lulay “is going to be held to a higher standard,” Benevides admitted. “So we’ve gotta help him grow, we’ve gotta push him, and by having someone there by his side, all day every day, it’s going to help him huge.”
In hiring Jackson for a post that didn’t previously exist, Benevides is perpetuating the Buono method of promotion from within, of veterans-as-teachers, of bringing players with integrity and intelligence along to positions of trust.
“These guys bleed orange, they understand the organization, we understand them ... and coaching is about trust. When things go sideways, you’ve got to know how people will deal with that adversity,” Benevides said.
“I believe in loyalty to the program. I believe in organizational DNA.”
On the Lions’ staff today are former defensive back Mark Washington and offensive lineman Kelly Bates. Barron Miles coached defence here for two seasons after retiring as a player, and is now coaching in Saskatchewan.
Dave Dickenson was well on the way to being a coach by the time he left the Lions for Calgary. Before him, former QB Jeff Tedford went from an offensive assistant on Buono’s first Calgary staff to earn a big reputation as an offensive innovator at Oregon and Cal-Berkeley. Another Stampeder backup, Mike McCoy, was Peyton Manning’s offensive coordinator this past season in Denver and just replaced Norv Turner as head coach of the San Diego Chargers.
If Lulay’s No. 2 in Vancouver last season, Mike Reilly, becomes the Edmonton starter, “half the league next season could be quarterbacks we’ve developed,” said Benevides, evidently including Winnipeg’s perpetually-endangered Buck Pierce and Hamilton’s Henry Burris, who was Buono’s quarterback for three seasons in Calgary.
Lulay’s rapid progression — he was the CFL’s outstanding player in 2011, his first full season as starter — doesn’t mean he can’t get even better.
“We all have glitches in our game, but I think that’s why I’m here, to try to get Travis to be even better than he already is. He knows I’ll be putting in the time, pushing him,” Jackson said. “Just being an extra set of eyes and ears, from someone who’s been a peer and played the position, not just someone on the sidelines with x’s and o’s. We’ve played a few years together, won a Grey Cup together.”
Jackson actually won two as a Lion, both as backup, and another last year in Toronto. It’s the latter that intrigues Lulay.
“To be fair, Jacques (Chapdelaine, B.C. offensive coordinator) was the quarterbacks coach, but as coordinator his focus was a bit more all-encompassing,” Lulay said. “I just think with Jarious having played as recently as a year ago — he threw a touchdown in the Grey Cup game — when he’s fresh off of playing, it’s great to have that point of view.
“I’m also excited about the experience he gained from playing for Coach (Scott) Milanovich, who’s a Marc Trestman (now Chicago Bears coach) disciple — they did a lot of good things in Montreal and obviously Toronto had a great run last year, winning the Grey Cup with Ricky Ray, and Jason Maas as his quarterback coach.
“Plus, Jason was Ricky’s backup in Edmonton, now he’s his quarterbacks coach, so there’s a parallel there with Jarious and me.”
Before he could commit to Benevides’s offer of a spot on the staff, though, the 35-year-old Jackson had to come to terms with stepping away from the field.
“It’s a little bittersweet, to be hanging up the cleats and knowing you’re not going to play the game you’ve grown to love your whole life,” he said Friday.
“(Benevides) gave me a lot of time to think about it, to be sure I was going to be stepping in the door with both feet, and not be halfway in and wondering in the back of mind whether I could still play.”
Now, with untested Thomas DeMarco and Jarrett Brown as the alternatives to Lulay, what’s the over-under on which game Jackson will be coaxed out of retirement?
“We already crossed that bridge. I don’t think that’s going to be the case,” he said. “I’ll still work out, of course, but my job will be helping with the mental side of the game. As far as the physical side, today finishes it.”
And tomorrow, it’s on to triple the hours for half the pay. Or less.
The head coach didn’t need to be reminded, 24 hours after learning that former Lions running back Yonus Davis will spend the next three years in a California jail for drug trafficking, that a team doesn’t always know what kind of person it’s getting when a new player shows up in town. But it knew Jarious Jackson.
“People are fragile. People disappoint you and surprise you in life. And athletes are no different. Recruiting is not an exact science,” he said.
“But over time, character will be revealed. And that’s why Jarious fits. That why, when people ask how come the coaching staff is so much the same, it’s because consistency and good people are hard to find,” he said.
“Our staff has 19 championships.”
That, too, is hard to find.
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