A fog sat low in the sky midday above the B.C. Lions on Thursday, the CFL team practising in the Vancouver suburbs ahead of a crucial road game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Saturday.
Beside the field, speakers belted out music instead of canned crowd noise, as has been the case this year. A remix of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Heads Will Roll blared. Then, came a dance-infused version of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck.
In the backfield, Stefan Logan took hand-offs. Standing some yards behind the repetitions of practice was Andrew Harris, in an orange tuque, the go-to running back for more than year but taking the day off – the stated reason being some late-season rest and the opportunity to get Logan a few more plays with the offence on just his third day of practice since rejoining the team after four years in the NFL.
Come Saturday in Regina, the Lions will look to the 32-year-old Logan to reignite their flagging season and help revive a moribund ground game. Logan has been handed the task with hardly any time to absorb the playbook, spending time his spare hours holed up at a hotel near the Lions headquarters, studying when he’s not working with the team.
“The learning process, it’s a little bit tough,” Logan said after practice.
He’s returned to the CFL team he showed great promise with in 2008 (889 yards on 122 carries; 52 catches for 477 yards and three touchdowns), before heading to the NFL. However, after struggling with the Detroit Lions last year, he found himself out of work.
So here he was, in Surrey.
Can three days of practice be enough? Is he ready?
Logan beamed a big smile and said: “I sure am.”
The Lions’ running game isn’t the team’s only problem – quarterback Travis Lulay will miss his fifth game with his vague-but-lasting shoulder injury – but it is the most obvious. The team is 9-6, having dropped two in a row, gaining just 136 rushing yards total in those losses.
The first defeat, at home against Saskatchewan, a receiver led in rushing.
The second loss, on the road against Calgary, the ground game was so feeble the Stampeders were able to set a declarative tone, yielding an average of only 2.1 yards on the first play of B.C. drives.
The losses leave the Lions with a must-win in Regina if they want a home game in the playoffs. A win would elevate the Lions to a tie with the Riders (10-5) with two games to play – and give B.C. the edge in the season series.
A loss means the Lions would spend the playoffs on the road, where the team has a losing record.
Explaining what’s gone wrong is elusive.
Some fingers point at the offensive line. Long-time starting centre Angus Reid, injured all year, stated that’s too easy. He says the team has been adjusting all year and nothing has quite clicked.
“It’s never as simple as one reason,” Reid said. “It’s what makes it hazy.”
Harris feels improvements began to percolate in recent weeks, even with the poor results on the stats sheet. He witnessed more push, more aggression, from the offensive line. Now, he watches a newcomer take balls that would have been his.
“It was kind of weird,” Harris said of practice Thursday.
Logan will be on the field Saturday returning kicks – and he will see time in the backfield. Harris did not hint of the stress of his job under threat.
He pointed to the boost for the team, the potential of a one-two punch of different backs: Harris, bigger at 5 foot 11 and 213 pounds; Logan, much smaller at 5 foot 6 and 180 pounds.
“Teams get used to seeing a certain style,” Harris said.
The Lions see their season potentially slipping away, so there are no qualms about gambits to spark a revival.
Said Harris: “I’m a team guy. I’m all for winning.”