Seven weeks into the 2011 it looked like the BC Lions season was cooked after a woeful 1-6 start. Not quite. The Lions proceeded to rip off eight straight wins and closed the season by winning 10 of their final 11 games overall to finish first in the West. The Lions would then steamroll the Eskimos in the Western Final and earn the right to play for the 99th Grey Cup at home in the newly renovated BC Place. Travis Lulay threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns in the championship game to lead the Lions to a 34-23 win over the Blue Bombers and send Wally Buono into the sunset with another ring. Buono stepped away from his coaching duties following the season to concentrate on the front office.
For the most part the Lions made it through the off-season with last year's Grey Cup roster intact.
|The Lions will miss the hard-hitting of linebacker Solomon Elimimian. The 2010 CFL Most Outstanding Rookie signed with the Minnesota Vikings in the off-season.
Not everyone is back though as a few key faces, especially on defence have landed elsewhere.
One of the biggest losses for the Lions is linebacker Solomon Elimimian who signed a deal with the Minnesota Vikings. In his two seasons with the Lions, Elimimian established himself as one of the game's biggest hitters. He was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Rookie in 2010 and was a CFL All-Star last year.
The team also lost one of its all-time greats during the off-season as defensive lineman Brent Johnson decided to retire following a decorated 11-year CFL career. The two-time Most Outstanding Canadian leaves the game as the Lions all-time sacks king with 89.
Another big hole on defence both literally and figuratively comes on the line as long-time Lion Aaron Hunt signed as a free agent with the Alouettes. Hunt had spent his entire six-year career with the Lions picking up 41 sacks along the way.
Other notable departures include DB Davis Sanchez (retired), RB Jamall Lee (retired) and DB Jerome Dennis (released).
As for additions, the Lions seemed to have a found somewhere they liked to refresh their secondary: Toronto. The Lions added a pair of former Argo defenders this off-season in defensive back Lin-J Shell and cornerback Byron Parker. Parker is an eight-year CFL veteran and former All-Star who will bring both ball-hawking and leadership to the Lions secondary.
Other notable additions for the Lions include veteran offensive lineman Patrick Kabongo and Canadian RB Stu Foord who signed as a free agent from Saskatchewan and will serve as a backup to Andrew Harris.
The Lions are certainly hoping that the 2012 season gets off to a better start than 2011 did. Then again, if the result is the same they probably won't complain.
With a championship roster that remains largely intact, the Lions enter the season as one of the favourites to hoist the Grey Cup in Toronto this November.
If they are going to reach the pinnacle once more it will be under the guidance of rookie head coach Mike Benevides who took over from the CFL's All-time winningest coach Wally Buono in the off-season. The transition has been fairly smooth as Benevides worked for the past several years under Buono and had long been considered the heir apparent for the job.
Travis Lulay was handed the reins last season really came into his own throwing for 4,815 yards and a CFL-best 32 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions. While it's tough to imagine that his production could be much better but the sky is really the limit for Lulay and this year with his skills and the quality of the Lions receivers.
|Geroy Simon is poised to become the most prolific receiver in CFL history this season. Simon needs just 68 yards to break Milt Stegall's all-time record of 15,153 receiving yards.
First and foremost among Lions receivers is, as always, Geroy Simon. Simon is just 68 yards shy of surpassing Milt Stegall's record of 15, 153 career receiving yards. Simon is among the best to ever play the game and is showing nbo sings of slowing down. Add in the likes of Arland Bruce and young Canadians Akeem Foster and Shawn Gore and the Lions receiving corps is one of the league's most dangerous.
At running back the club will once again look to Canadian Andrew Harris to lead the way. The Grey Cup's Most Valuable Canadian brings alot of versatility to the Lions backfield with his quoickness and ability to catch passes. The club also brought in veteran Roughrider fan favourite Stu Foord to spell Harris and keep it Canadian at running back.
One of the biggest surprises for the team on offence is that Jovan Olafioye will be back on the line. Olafioye signed a contract with the St. Louis Rams and was not expected to be back until at least August. He was released because of an unspecified medical issue though and the All-Star tackle was gladly welcomed back into the den.
Defensively the club is also happy to bring back defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell. Mitchell was also expected to join Elimimian in the NFL this season and actually came close to agreeing to a deal with Miami. Ultimately he decided that the security he felt with the Lions was worth more than the insecurity offered by the Dolphins.
Looking at the secondary, one of the team's goals was to get bigger and more physical. Former Argos Lin-J Shell and Byron Parker fit the bill nicely and should add an extra element of toughness to the defence.
If all things go to plan in B.C., don't be surprised to see the Lions once again looking to represent the West in the Grey Cup.
||OL Kirby Fabien
||OL Matthew Norman
||LB Jordan Verdone
The Lions knew who they wanted to take so they traded up to make sure they could get defensive lineman Jabar Westerman out of Eastern Michigan.
In 2011, the Brampton, Ont. native racked up 26 tackles and four sacks for Eastern Michigan, a major improvement from his 2010 season, which saw him register 22 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
The Lions will have to wait to see their other first round pick Kirby Fabien though. Fabien opted to return to school for another season rather than sign a deal with the Lions.
The Lions rounded out their draft by selecting offensive lineman Matthew Norman and linebacker Jordan Verdone.