It was a sizable departure from past practice this season when Solomon Elimimian began working on the sideline until the motives became clear, and a few eyebrows were raised when Wally Buono this week suggested he might consider a career in coaching.
A look into the eyes of the all-star middle linebacker Thursday as the B.C. Lions completed the Surrey phase of their playoff push told a much different tale, however.
Elimimian is back, admitting he’ll be in the lineup for the CFL crossover semifinal Sunday against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (10 a.m., TSN, 8 a.m. pre-game TSN 1040). The collective confidence of a team who’ll have three faces their opponents didn’t see a few weeks ago just took a noticeable turn upward.
Coaching? Who needs that aggravation?
“The insecurities of coaching far outweigh the insecurities of playing,” said Elimimian said.
The insecurities of playing for a new general manager, Ed Hervey, and a coach in Buono who hasn’t hid his desire to get key injured regulars back playing quickly in the past is real with the Lions.
But a decision earlier this season to keep Elimimian engaged as a quasi coach and make him part of the travelling party, as has been the case when Travis Lulay was injured, is about to pay off for the Lions.
It had different benefits already mind you. Elimimian has been working the sideline flashing defensive signals alongside defensive coordinator Mark Washington because the Lions had become convinced some teams were actively engaged in trying to pick out their formational calls.
Having Elimimian sort out alignment issues that have effected the Lions run defence is a whole lot easier on the field than on the sidelines, however. If there’s apprehension about not having a chance to test out the ligament damage suffered to his wrist July 29, it is not discernable looking at him now.
“Nobody can put as much pressure on you as you can,” said Elimimian, who admitted as late as last week he wasn’t a complete picture of health. “Regardless of who wants you to play you have to be prepared to play and assume the risks. Wally’s not in my body. Ed’s not in my body. No other player is in my body or more importantly, my mind.
“It’s go time. All hands on deck. This (Hamilton game) is going to be a challenge.”
That doesn’t mean watching the Lions defence mature this season without Elimimian was easy for a player who is supremely aware of his place among the league’s linebacking greats.
“We say we’re all in this together but it’s hard to feel like that when you’re not travelling,” said Elimimian. “I’m proud of the fact I wasn’t on the outside looking in. I still was able to help. I was still engaged, being a mentor. It would be easy to mail it in. By them letting me helping travel it kept me engaged.”
Now the Lions want Elimimian to bolster a run defence that was better than only two non-playoff clubs this season, which surely should have the Ticats thinking there is merit in putting the ball in the hands of Alex Green Sunday.
Just being on the field is a plus, some claim.
“It’s the It Factor that Solly has,” said all-star defensive back T.J. Lee, taking nothing away from the fact Lulay and Tyrell Sutton are also making their first starts against Hamilton this season. “It doesn’t matter if he messes up; we know that he’s going to be where the ball is.”
But after a couple of weeks of indifferent play on both sides of the ball, it’s more instructive to make an attempt to determine where the Lions are collectively between the ears, especially after their last visit to Hamilton had a horrendous outcome on and off the field.
Buono appealed to his players during the practice week to take an even-keeled approach as a means to challenge emotion towards kickoff Sunday, noting several of the Lions recent performances in the past have featured horrific starts.
“There’s no need in getting over-amped because were not playing the game right now,” said Jeremiah Johnson, who’ll run back kicks in place of Chris Rainey for the Lions Sunday. “If you’re way too emotional you can tire yourself out easily.
“Those guys (Hamilton) are very good but I just think they bank on bulletin board situations to get them hyped. As a team we’re going to stay off social media and make sure we just let them find their own motivation.”
B.C. has its own focus back on defence, a guy who says the insecurities of coaching are for someone else.
LIONS TALES: Elimimian is expected to start but as a precaution the Lions will also dress Canadian Ron Omara, who was recently signed to the practice roster. Linebacker Micah Awe (knee) also had virtually no defensive reps this week… Rainey has been bothered by an ankle injury and as such the Lions will not hesitate to take him off the active roster. It’s the third time he’s either lost his spot to either injury or performance in a season in which he was named a West Division all-star…. Responding partly to some complaints directed at the Lions, the league announced it will stop play at 2pm ET Sunday out of respect to fans in the Pacific time zone who would not otherwise be able to properly pay respects at 11am PT on Remembrance Day.