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Football B.C. Lions eye a Grey Cup run after a thorough off-season revamp

B.C. Lions head coach DeVone Claybrooks speaks to the media at the team's training facility in Surrey, B.C., on May 14, 2019.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

Mike Reilly may be the biggest name added to the B.C. Lions roster this off-season, but the marquee quarterback is just one piece in a wave of change for the club.

He’s joined by a mix of veterans collected from around the CFL and the entire squad is under the guidance of rookie head coach DeVone Claybrooks.

Defensive back Aaron Grymes describes the group as comical, saying training camp was one of the most fun he’s had since joining the league in 2013.

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But the Lions are also a group bound by a singular vision, he added.

“We all know we want to win. We believe that we can win from the top to bottom, not just with the players but with the staff and with the scouts and things like that,” said Grymes, who joins B.C. following five seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos.

“We believe we have what it takes. We’ve just got to stay locked in and we put it all together.”

This year’s squad is almost unrecognizable compared to previous teams the Lions have fielded.

Gone are a number of long-term veterans, including fullback Rolly Lumbala, wide receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux and linebacker Solomon Elimimian.

Claybrooks, a former defensive co-ordinator for the reigning Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders, has replaced long-time Lions bench boss Wally Buono. The new coach has brought in a staff of his own, many of whom are just a few years removed from their own playing days.

With so much change, creating chemistry among the new teammates has been a priority at training camp in Kamloops, B.C.

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The team quickly came together as a cohesive unit, said Reilly.

“It started off well and it continued to get better throughout camp,” said the quarterback, who signed with the Lions in free agency after spending the last six seasons in Edmonton.

All the roster changes will bring a much tighter, more dynamic offence that makes fewer mistakes than in the past, said wide receiver Bryan Burnham, one of the few players returning to the Lions this year after last season’s first-round playoff exit.

“Nothing against the guys that we’ve had, but when you bring a Mike Reilly in, he’s a guy that’s going to command the huddle, command the offence. He’s not going to allow guys to be out of place,” he said.

“So I think our offence is going to be much more efficient this year. And fans can expect a lot of big plays.”

Fans can also expect a “smart, well-coached, hard-playing football team,” Claybrooks said.

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But they should be prepared for some grit.

“We’re going to be physical. We’re going to be a nasty team,” he said. “When we play you, we’re going to get after you.”

Lions general manager Ed Hervey likes his team’s chances this season, but knows it might take time for the team to jell.

“I don’t think our first game will be indicative of what the rest of our season will be like. Nor do I think the fifth game will be indicative of it. I think it’s going to be a slow grind throughout the season,” he said at training camp last month.

“I just believe that as long as we work hard and we execute, there won’t be many teams that will outwork us.”

B.C. Lions at a glance

HEAD COACH: DeVone Claybrooks, first season as a CFL head coach

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LAST YEAR: 9-9, lost to Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Eastern semifinal

KEY PLAYERS:

  • QB Mike Reilly: The former Edmonton Eskimo has been the CFL’s top passer three years in a row, throwing for 5,562 yards and 30 touchdowns last season. He’ll be looking to replicate that success in his first year as the Lions’ starting QB.
  • WR Duron Carter: The receiver split last year between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Toronto Argos, struggling to find his place with either team. The 28-year-old Florida native is looking to return to all-star form in B.C.
  • DB T.J. Lee: Led the Lions with 81 defensive tackles last year. As one of the team’s few returnees, the 28-year-old defensive back will be looked to not only be a key player, but a leader on and off the field.

THE BIG QUESTION: The Lions have loaded up on talent on both sides of the ball, but can those pieces jell into a winning team?

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