For seven weeks and six straight defeats, B.C. Lions general manager and head coach Wally Buono maintained that "execution" was his team's biggest problem.
But after a 48-35 loss to the Calgary Stampeders at Empire Field on Friday, Buono had to concede that his CFL club's struggles extend to talent. The Lions have lost nine consecutive games to the Stampeders and fell to 1-7 in 2010, including 0-4 at home.
"There are no positives right now - none," said defensive end and team captain Brent Johnson. "I don't know where we go. I don't know what to do. I'm not sensing the season has got away from us, I'm sensing that we, collectively as a team, won't clue in."
B.C. is out of playoff position heading into Labour Day weekend and a road game against the 6-2 Montreal Alouettes. Two Lions would not answer in the affirmative when asked if the team was good enough to compete with the CFL's best.
Quarterback Casey Printers returned from a knee injury but was off the mark, completing just 10 of 26 passes against the Stampeders. B.C. scored 15 cosmetic points in the final three minutes, and its defence was pounded for 215 rushing yards.
"It was more than [execution]" Buono said Friday. "Physically, when they run the ball at you and they have the success they had in the second half, that's more than just execution."
B.C. will closely monitor a handful of CFL veterans currently in NFL training camps. NFL teams must trim down to 75 players by Tuesday, and 53 by Saturday.
"Obviously, we have to improve our football team," Buono said.
Defensive end Ricky Foley
The CFL's co-sack leader in 2009 is squarely on the bubble with the Seattle Seahawks. Should he get cut, most expect the Courtice, Ont., native will either return to Vancouver, or sign with a Southern Ontario team. Foley, who had 12 sacks last year and could command a hefty salary, would certainly help the Lions' poor pass rush. B.C. would also have interest in defensive ends Stevie Baggs (Arizona) and John Chick (Indianapolis), two former Saskatchewan Roughriders who would be CFL free agents. Chick is expected to make the Colts.
Fullback Rolly Lumbala
Lumbala was an excellent foot soldier for two years in B.C., and if he fails to make the Miami Dolphins, he will serve out his option-year with the Leos. The non-import is a premier special-teams player and would improve coverage teams. His traditional position - fullback - no longer exists in B.C.'s offence, but he could help in specialty packages as an extra blocker.
Wide receivers Shawn Gore and Ryan Grice-Mullen
Gore, B.C.'s second-round pick in the 2010 draft, was cut by the Green Bay Packers on Saturday, and is contemplating the fledgling United Football League. He is on NFL waivers until Monday, but could land in Vancouver later this week. The 10th overall pick from Bishop's University is still green. Grice-Mullen, cut by Miami, is holding out for a practice-roster spot in the NFL, but is also talking to the Lions. B.C. would use him as return specialist where he could complement - or spell - Yonus Davis, a good-looking rookie returner who is earning more time at running back.
Running back Martell Mallett
The 2009 CFL rookie-of-the-year was given his outright release by B.C. this winter, and would be a free agent if cut by the Philadelphia Eagles. That seems unlikely, however, because Mallett has shone in camp. B.C.'s interest isn't high either, because of the emergence of Davis. The Lions would be interested in former tailback Stefan Logan, a return specialist with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but player personnel co-ordinator Neil McEvoy said Logan would be claimed by another NFL team if cut.