It's a Casey Printers redux. Call it: Salvation, the Sequel.
Once again, the quarterback re-enters the B.C. Lions starting lineup counted on to be the saviour, and fix a wayward season.
Last autumn, Printers returned to the CFL after an 11-month sabbatical and played brilliantly down the stretch, as the Lions slipped into the playoffs and advanced to the East Division final. On Friday, he returns from a knee injury and a five-week absence as the 1-6 Lions attempt to snap a six-game losing string, and an eight-game skid against the arch-nemesis Calgary Stampeders.
All of this falls on a quarterback who has played very little football over the last two years, and who was protected from sky-high expectations by the Lions last year. But general manager and head coach Wally Buono has identified poor quarterback play as the primary reason why B.C. is scuffling, meaning even more pressure heaps on Printers's shoulders.
"But he's not fighting the same demons as he was before," Buono said when asked if there were similarities to Printers's return last season. "He's not fighting his past, and how he's perceived, and how he's accepted and all that. Right now, everybody is excited that he is back at the helm. Totally different."
Printers also dismissed comparisons to his 2009, saying he feels no pressure to spark the CFL's worst offence.
"This is a completely different team, and a completely different attitude," he said.
Printers has been a different quarterback, too. Using a limited playbook last autumn, he showed flashes of his 2004 CFL most outstanding player campaign: the rare pivot who can make big plays when the protection fails.
"I knew the offence, but they had to dumb it down for me," he said.
Curiously, in two-plus games this season, Printers was pedestrian, even though he had a full off-season and training camp to digest the offence and practise his craft.
"You can see where he got progressively sharper [in practice this week]" Buono said. "He should be much better prepared. He's had 1,000 more reps."
At this point, Printers is B.C.'s best hope to get back to its winning ways. Travis Lulay and Jarious Jackson were both underwhelming when given opportunities, and the surrounding team was clearly not good enough to win with sub-standard play at the most important position.
In-season airlifts have never been Buono's style, but the Lions boss was forced to go down that road during the bye week, an acknowledgement that his once-legendary personnel machine spit out some stinkers this spring. The team signed former Toronto Argonauts defensive lineman Jonathan Brown, and veteran offensive lineman Joe McGrath, who had been cut by the Edmonton Eskimos earlier this season. Brown will start at defensive tackle, while McGrath will back-up several positions against the Stampeders.
"I think I can bring some leadership and be a guy who can help guys get motivated," Brown said. "As you get older, you know how to play the game, and how to practice. When you're rookie, going in there for the first time, it's coming at you 100 miles per hour."
B.C. is also using its fifth different offensive front. Veteran Angus Reid has been sent back to the bench, and will be replaced by Dean Valli at centre. After a seven-week experiment, Buono determined Jon Hameister-Ries cannot play tackle, and will be shifted to left guard.
The team has also hit a crossroads with offensive lineman Justin Sorensen, a former first-round pick who has disappointed since turning professional out of the University of South Carolina last year.
Sorensen played the best amateur competition on the planet in the Southeastern Conference, but hasn't been able to nail down a starting job with the Lions. The Parksville, B.C., native will make his first professional start at right tackle, and with veteran Sherko Haji-Rasouli (knee) due back soon, he needs to make an impression.