Lions defensive backs getting a workout lately

It wasn’t a desire by Mark Washington to suddenly maintain his fitness when he dropped down and started doing pushups with his players after practice one day this week, but it wasn’t a penalty for the biggest problem facing the B.C. Lions these days either.

“(The offence) caught the last pass on us at practice, so there’s a consequence,” the defensive coordinator of the CFL team (above) explained with a grin.

Another consequence to a pretty decent season so far will occur, however, if the 9-4 Lions don’t fix what has become a troubling trend the last couple of games.

Though their 40-33 win over Ottawa Saturday had their fan base energized about the quality of work of Jon Jennings and the offence, the defence of the Lions has slowly become unglued.

They’re still ranked second overall in yards allowed and giving up 25.6 points on average will keep them in a lot of games down the stretch. But B.C. is fifth against the pass, and only Saskatchewan has given up more average yards passing per catch.

“Everyone knows our Achilles heel,” head coach and general manager Wally Buono said recently.

And fixing it becomes job one for Washington, who went through a similar tough stretch last year only to close with a solid finish despite the team’s 7-11 record under Jeff Tedford.

When you give up 270 yards after the catch, as B.C. did against Ottawa, it isn’t hard to figure out the focus of practice.

“We were missing tackles left and right,” said Washington, lamenting the fact that eight of Harris’ completions resulted in 296 of the Redblacks’ 485 yards through the air. “Take away those and you’re talking about a sensible game.”

Harris hit for 352 against the Lions when the teams met in Ottawa a month earlier and has torched a few other defences as well this year. The fact Edmonton’s Mike Reilly touched B.C. for 300 a week earlier marked the start of a potentially troubling development.

Small wonder that when the Lions were celebrating Saturday, veteran defensive back Ryan Phillips sat and talked calmly about the growing elephant in their locker room.

Losing three regulars for the year (Ronnie Yell, T.J. Lee and Stephen Clarke) to injuries would be a setback to any team, and the Lions are crossing their fingers first-year CFLers Anthony Gaitor and Chandler Fenner can form a decent partnership on the short-side of the secondary.

Phillips and Brandon Stewart on the wide side have been better, but are being attacked. So is, to a lesser degree, safety Mike Edem. It’s partly why Washington has tried to use the versatility of another rookie, Loucheiz Purifoy, and move him around the defensive formation.

But while Solomon Elimimian and Adam Bighill pile up tackle totals and the defensive front tries to be effective in the face of quick-throwing opposing quarterbacks, it’s the back end which will continue to be under the microscope for the Lions heading into the most important stretch of the season, with back-to-back games against Winnipeg coming in front of a home rematch with Edmonton.

LIONS TALES: B.C. joined the ranks of teams which are able to use a four-week stretch to evaluate talent through the use of an expanded practice roster by bringing in five players this week. Included in the group is a kicker, 25-year-old Bobby Zalud (Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo), who is the first player to push Richie Leone since the Lions sent Anthony Fera packing in training camp. Leone is a free agent after this season.


Lowell Ullrich

Lowell Ullrich

Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.
Lowell Ullrich
Lowell Ullrich
About Lowell Ullrich (174 Articles)
Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.