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Rejuvenated Lions ready to attack in 2014
By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER - Head coach Mike Benevides knew the B.C. Lions needed a shakeup heading into the 2014 season.
Without a playoff victory since winning the '11 Grey Cup on home turf and this year's game scheduled for B.C. Place Stadium again in November, the Lions felt the need to re-invent themselves.
So Benevides and GM Wally Buono opted to part ways with their two co-ordinators and cut ties with several veteran players. Three pillars of the offensive line also retired so when the Lions opened training camp earlier this month in Kamloops, B.C., plenty of introductions were required.
Khari Jones was hired to run the offence while Mark Washington was promoted to take charge of the defence. Veteran quarterback Kevin Glenn was acquired as an insurance policy, tackle Khalif Mitchell was again anchoring the defensive line after a surprise return to the West Coast and a number of solid rookies were primed and ready to fight for jobs.
"I really believe in our draft process, I really believe in our scouting department," Benevides said. "Wally's the best GM in the league for a reason, he's won more games than anybody ever will.
"We've won more games than anybody else for a long stretch of time based on longevity. There will be a lot of different faces and numbers to get used to and that's OK. We'll take baby steps early on and hopefully we'll be where we want to be at the end of the season."
A key move was acquiring Glenn, who was 20-8 as a starter over two seasons with Calgary before eagerly going to Ottawa in the CFL expansion draft. But that quickly turned to disappointment after the Redblacks signed Henry Burris to be their starter, resulting in Glenn asking to be traded.
Starter Travis Lulay is still recovering from shoulder surgery — he didn't take a snap in either of B.C.'s exhibition victories — so Glenn, 35, will start the season opener Saturday at B.C. Place against the Edmonton Eskimos.
"My thing is just be prepared when my number's called. I've always taken this approach — prepare as if I'm going to start," he said. "We're in the business of winning.
"You come right in and you've got to win. With the Grey Cup being played here it's that much more of an incentive."
B.C. has history on its side this season — the home team has won the Grey Cup in each of the last three years.
"We're worried about Edmonton in Week 1 and that's next goal," said Lions running back Andrew Harris. "The end goal is to get to the Grey Cup but you can't get too far ahead of yourself."
Jones, a former CFL quarterback, began his career with B.C. in '97 and takes over the offence from Jacques Chapdelaine, who was criticized for a lack of imagination in recent years.
That's something Jones said shouldn't be a problem under his watch.
"I hope it's a high-powered offence," said Jones. "I hope it's an offence where we can put points on the board because that's what wins you football games, but a balanced offence as well.
"An offence that uses its weapons, and we have plenty of weapons on this team."
Those weapons include the dual running tandem of the bruising Harris and lightning-quick Stefan Logan.
The Lions had trouble with the ground game at times last season — going 11 straight contests without a 100-yard rusher — before the return of Logan. He played in B.C. in '08 before spending four years in the NFL.
"Stefan's an exciting player and I'm just honoured to be playing beside him and just learn from him," said Harris, who seemed re-engerized upon Logan's arrival. "It's going to be a fun year competing with him in the backfield and building together as a cohesive unit.
"Anytime someone makes a play, you want to make it as well."
Meanwhile, the offensive line lost starters Angus Reid, Ben Archibald and Patrick Kabongo this off-season although Reid missed all of 2013 due to injury. The rebuilt unit will be led by Matt Norman, who filled in admirably for Reid at centre.
Washington, a former defensive backs coach, replaces Rich Stubler as defensive co-ordinator. Like Jones, Washington wants his unit on the front foot and dictating play.
"Mark Washington made sure he instilled in us that we want to be a fast, aggressive defence," said veteran defensive back Ryan Phillips. "An attack-style defence that's going to go out there and make plays."
A former Lions defensive back, Washington said the "attack" he wants from his players is a mentality.
"Attacking is we're not going to sit back and let you dictate to us," he said. "We're going to dictate terms to you."
While Stubler's defence didn't have a bad '13 season — the Lions surrendered the second -fewest rushing yards (94.4 per game) — it allowed the second-most rushing TDs (17) and had the third-fewest sacks (45).
The defensive line received a huge upgrade with the return of Mitchell, who was dealt to Toronto prior to last season following a number of on- and off-field incidents. Now the six-foot-six, 315-pound tackle is back after failing to sign with an NFL club as a free agent.
Benevides said the Lions have a better understanding of the mercurial Mitchell and B.C.'s leadership group was consulted before the decision was made to bring him back.
"I think we brought in the right pieces and we're gelling at the right time," said Phillips. "The most important thing now is we start the season off very strong and on a high note."
B.C. lost the '12 West Division final to Calgary before dropping a semifinal decision to the eventual Grey Cup-champion Saskatchewan Roughriders last year after posting an 11-7 record. Some teams might shy away from talking about hosting the Grey Cup but Benevides has asked his team to embrace it from Day 1.
"It's additional pressure," he said. "Every team across the country is saying the same thing — `We want to win a championship.'
"I'm not going to be dishonest and say 'Well it's at home so it's no big deal.' It is a big deal."