The look on the face of Chris Rainey is a lot more revealing than what he says about being a critical piece of the B.C. Lions offence this year.
There’s a big grin and clear understanding that he is being asked whether it is irksome to be considered only as an occasional threat and one highly explosive decoy. Rainey is also usually always on the move when in front of a microphone, dancing side to side, ready to put his gold-plated spikes into business mode. It’s either a nervous twitch or occupational therapy. It’s just the way he rolls.
What he says, however, is in contrast to his body language. He’s only been with the Lions less than a year, but Rainey has already figured out the most important aspect of staying employed with this CFL team. It is unwise to oppose Wally Buono, especially when coach/GM of the Lions has made up his mind on how he’ll be used this year, which doesn’t conflict with how he has deployed almost all of his return specialists over his career.
“I’ll keep my mouth shut,” smiled Rainey, confirming he indeed as learned a great deal as a 25-year-old. “I’ll stay positive, and patient. Been doing that all my life.”
One day, he reckons, he’ll be seen as both a return dynamo and a receiver who can create nightmarish matchup advantages against opposing linebackers. But not now and not with the Lions for the time being anyway. He’ll answer questions. He just won’t make waves.
Rainey received a new contract last winter to go along with a new life he is experiencing with the Lions, which represents a departure from a difficult past. And he’s happy to settle being a return threat.
He gets a share of the marquee Friday (4 p.m., TSN/TSN 1040) as the Lions face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Brandon Banks, another premier returner who is deployed differently with a much bigger role in the offence of coach Kent Austin.
Forget the game, the best competition Friday would be a Rainey-Banks match race. Rainey has a personal-best time of 4.23 seconds in the 40-yard dash. If nothing else, the hype to such a matchup would go on much longer than the event.
B.C. will try to get Rainey a few touches offensively if only to force opponents into giving him some attention. But that’s all it will be for Rainey. Ask him whether he’d like to have a role similar to that of Banks or another dual threat like Ottawa’s Chris Williams and Rainey does little more than talk wistfully. A big grin, however, tells much more.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone following the Lions that Buono’s contention is that his return man has to remain fresh, and taking hits as an offensive threat limits effectiveness. He did the same thing with Tim Brown and Stefan Logan for the most part. He’s not changing now.
To Buono, for every Rainey or Banks there’s a player like Hamilton’s Chad Owens, who was once a lethal dual threat but his showing the effects of overuse with the Toronto Argonauts
“Chris is a very effective player for us but we have to use him smart,” said Buono.
And on offence so far, you couldn’t use him any more smartly. Rainey had only two offensive touches in the win over the Calgary Stampeders Saturday. One was for a goal-line touchdown. The other was a ridiculously athletic reception of a Jon Jennings pass that sustained the Lions’ critical fourth-quarter drive.
Of course, one of his special teams touches was much more memorable, and game-changing, when Rainey romped 72 yards for a game-winning punt return touchdown. He’s only played 10 regular season games for the Lions but Rainey now has rushing and receiving majors to go with a kickoff score and a pair of punt runbacks. Not bad production, considering he hasn’t yet had 100 touches in his CFL career.
Staying patient and in the moment, Rainey said, stems partly from the fact that for one of the few times in his adult life there is tranquility.
Rainey’s upbringing, being born in a Florida prison, was well documented both when he came to the Lions last year and during his CFL baptism in 2014 with the Montreal Alouettes. Same for troubles when with three NFL clubs and during his college days at the University of Florida, when Rainey played with Tim Tebow and fought with a teammate, Percy Harvin.
However in the past year, just prior to joining the Lions, a few more dots in his life have been connected. He reunited with his father, who also had spent the majority of his life in prison, last spring. Rainey also met one of his three children, who lives with her mother, for the first time as well.
“I don’t know if it makes a difference on the field, but I am in a calmer place now,” Rainey admits, which is about as much as he is willing to expand on just about any topic.
Give him the ball, he seemed to suggest, and he may well say a lot more with his feet.
LIONS TALES: The release this week of DT Zach Minter surprised some onlookers but not those who saw the import sophomore show up to training camp out of shape. Darius Allen took his roster spot and another rookie, George Uko, took a practice roster position… Knee swelling suffered late in the practice week by LB Dyshawn Davis will sideline him against Hamilton