The BC Lions receiving corps took a hit at the end of last season when stalwart Bryan Burnham announced his retirement after eight seasons with the team.
But heading in to a new CFL season, the Lions coaches are confident they can maintain their success minus the Tulsa, Okla., native.
“[We’ve got] Dominique Rhymes, Lucky Whitehead, Keon Hatcher, Jevon Cottoy, and there’s a whole list of guys and that’s a solid core,” said head coach Rick Campbell.
Rhymes led the team in 2022 with 1,401 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.
“We know how close we were. We know the work we got to put in, how we need to stay consistent and good things will happen to us,” Rhymes said.
Hatcher was close behind with 1,043 receiving yards and five touchdowns, while Whitehead had 1,011 yards and three touchdowns.
Those receivers are already setting some high goals, Hatcher added.
“Everybody go for 1,000 [yards],” he said. “That’s for all of us. We have the pieces and everybody is locked in on the same goal.”
Whitehead said his main focus is keeping himself healthy this season to ensure there’s no drop in production on the offence.
“I’ve got to be able to take care of myself this season and be able to help the offence as much as possible,” he said.
Whitehead struggled with an ankle injury last season, forcing him to miss the Western Division semifinal and final.
“It’s a lot of fuel,” he said about 2022′s season-ending loss to Winnipeg. “We left some meat on the bone, especially myself.”
He added that he’s likely to take the field for field goal defence, not kick returning as he did last season.
Wide receivers coach Jason Tucker said he’s confident his players can fill the void left by Burnham.
Tucker said the harder part is the mental challenge of getting over how last season ended.
“This group is good. We just need to get over that hump of one more game,” he said, referring to last season’s Western Division final loss to Winnipeg.
Offensive co-ordinator Jordan Maksymic said he thinks it’s impossible to completely replace someone like Burnham on and off the field, and is looking for the receiving corps to collectively work to fill that void.
“That group is going to pick up where he left off,” Maksymic said. “We’re confident his mantle can be passed to some of them.”
Burnham was limited to nine games last season due to injuries, including a broken wrist sustained in a loss to Calgary on Sept. 25, but he still managed 596 yards and four touchdowns on 41 receptions.
He had 476 receptions and 7,212 receiving yards with the Lions throughout his career, which both rank fourth in franchise history and his 43 touchdown receptions are seventh all-time among Lions receivers.
Burnham said his desire to be closer to his family and be an engaged father was part of the reason for his retirement.
He announced this past month that he has joined Holland Hall, a pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 independent Episcopal school in Tulsa, as its first-ever Director of Belonging and Inclusivity.
“We got up here and it felt kind of empty without him,” said Hatcher about missing Burnham at training camp. “He has such a presence about himself but we have guys that can step up”
The Lions also announced it had released nine players from its training camp roster, all Americans: Cesar Barajas (K), Elijah Benton (DB), Cole Blackman (WR), Raymond Calais (RB), Robert Holt (LB), Quinn Oseland (OL), Kevin Shaa (WR), Tre Webb (DB), Henry Yianakopolos (LB).
Yianakopolos was mobbed by fellow defensive linebackers on Tuesday after intercepting a throw from starting quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. with players shouting “get off the field” to the offence.
The Lions training camp practice on Wednesday was moved inside to a basketball court due to wildfire smoke that hit Kamloops, B.C. Environment Canada says the smoke is likely from wildfires in Alberta and the Peace region.
The Calgary Stampeders cancelled their Wednesday practice while the Edmonton Elks moved theirs inside due to wildfire smoke from fires across Alberta.