“No matter how many Wally Buono and the Lions try to spin it, the team lost a lot of key players during the offseason. This has led the casual fan to wonder if the Lions will be in rebuilding mode this season.”
It seemed like the BC Lions were good but never great last season.
The team had its highlights in 2008, and got some great individual performances from key players.
Defensive end Cameron Wake had a monster year with 23 sacks.
On offense, running back Stefan Logan had a break-out season with 889 rushing yards, while receivers Geroy Simon and Paris Jackson continued their solid play.
But when all was said and done, these players could not lead the Lions to a Grey Cup appearance.
Despite losing out on a home playoff game in the last game of the season, the Lions shocked Saskatchewan on the road to advance to the Western Final, where BC was defeated by the Calgary Stampeders.
Yet it seemed like whenever the Lions took a step forward, they seemed to take another one back.
The Lions traveled to a hostile Mosaic Stadium in the playoffs and beat the Roughriders, but lost in the regular season finale against a Stampeders team that was resting its starters.
Heading into the offseason, one had to believe the Lions would look to add a few players to help push their team over the top. Instead, the team lost a lot of players to free agency.
All of this makes one wonder what things will be like in BC this season.
Let’s take a closer look at the BC Lions:
The Lions' offseason didn’t exactly start the way they wanted.
In a disappointing (but not unexpected) move, Defensive Player of the Year Cameron Wake left the Lions to sign a four-year contract with the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
Wake, a defensive end, was not the only defensive player to leave the Lions, as BC lost a trio of linebackers. Jamall Johnson joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Jason Pottinger was traded to the Toronto Argonauts. BC also released veteran Otis Floyd.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Lions lost the bidding war for lineman Rob Murphy, who was signed by the Toronto Argonauts. The team also released slot back Jason Clermont.
Perhaps the biggest loss on the offensive side was running back Stefan Logan. Logan, who would have been the starting running back for the Lions, signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Lions added a few players during free agency to counter-balance some of these losses. The team’s best pick-up was Saskatchewan linebacker Anton Mackenzie, who was part of Saskatchewan’s dominant linebacking corps.
Defensive end Nautyn McKay-Loescher was also added as a replacement for Cameron Wake.
The Lions also manage to re-sign key players, such as Paris Jackson, Aaron Hunt, and Baron Miles.
The Lions used the three draft picks obtained from the Pottinger trade to select running back Jamall Lee, linebacker James Yurichuk and slot back Matt Carter.
Can the Lions hope to replace defensive end Cameron Wake and his 23-sack performance with the often-injured Nautyn McKay-Loescher?
Wake was a key force on BC’s defensive last season, and his aggression struck fear in the hearts of opposing offenses.
BC’s linebacking corps also has huge question marks after losing Johnson, Floyd, and Pottinger. The team did add Anton Mackenzie, but what other options do they have?
Mackenzie and Javier Glatt appear to be the only proven options available. Glatt is a good linebacker, but he has never really been a great one.
On offense, the Lions running game may be a weak point for them with Logan's departure.
The lack of a running game will put more pressure on Lions quarterback Buck Pierce, who lacks solid receivers to throw to besides Paris Jackson and Geroy Simon.
When it comes right down to it, there are a lot of question marks in BC with few answers.
Few can argue that Wally Buono has been a successful coach, and that the Lions always have a chance with him at the helm.
And the team still has talent. Jackson looks to be a rising star in the league and Simon is always reliable. On defense, the team still has a stellar secondary and all-star defensive tackle Aaron Hunt.
But with all the offseason losses, one has to wonder if BC will slide down the standings this season.
Whether the Lions have success could come down to a few things:
Will they find a solid running back? Can Buck Pierce be a consistent starter? And will the defense take a huge step back after losing Cameron Wake?
Another thing to keep in mind is the weak East division. Last season the Eskimos crossed over to the East and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Lions do the same this season.
But don’t expect BC to finish high in the West because, though Wally Buono may not want to admit it, the Lions are in a rebuilding year this season.
My Prediction: Between six and eight wins, a fourth-place finish in the West and a possible crossover playoff berth in the East.
Outstanding Player of the Year: Paris Jackson
Defensive Player of the Year: Anton Mackenzie
Canadian of the Year: Brent Johnson
Lineman of the Year: Aaron Hunt
Special Teams Player of the Year: Ian Smart
Rookie of the Year: James Yurichuk
Stay tuned to Bleacher Report in the coming weeks for the West team previews.
Past Previews: East