SPORTS

Lions looking for more consistency as stretch drive of CFL season looms

09/13/2013 09:13 EDT | Updated 11/13/2013 05:12 EST
SURREY, B.C. - The B.C. Lions are looking for answers as they battle internal and external criticism heading into the stretch drive of the CFL season.

The Lions have had an unusual week as general manager Wally Buono chastised the team in public and brought back quarterback Buck Pierce, in a trade from Winnipeg, and defensive lineman Chris Wilson, another former B.C. player who was signed after a few seasons in the NFL.

Meanwhile, lithe veteran nickelback Korey Banks and burly defensive lineman Khreem Smith fought in practice and mild-mannered offensive lineman Ben Archibald called publicly for his unit to play better.

B.C. also finally welcomed defensive lineman Andrew Awasom, one of the players acquired for defensive lineman Khalif Mitchell in an off-season trade from Toronto.

The moves and unusual happenings came after the Lions lost two of their past three games and faced criticism from pundits as well as Buono. Coach Mike Benevides was not overly complimentary, either, but still tried to point out some positives in his evaluation.

"We need to find a level of consistency," Benevides said this week as the Lions prepared to host the Montreal Alouettes on Sunday. "We need to answer the bell on what the opponents are creating for us and capitalize on the opportunities."

But it will still take a while for the changes to take effect. Wilson and Awasom, who was born in Cameroon but grew up in the U.S. and had visa troubles that prevented him from getting into Canada before now, should beef up a struggling pass rush. But they appear unlikely to play this week as they get to know the Lions' defensive system.

Pierce's status is also in question after his return to B.C. following three-plus seasons in Winnipeg. Thomas DeMarco, a second-year pro with limited snaps, retained the backup quarterback role — at least for now.

While Buono's call for more urgency was not inflammatory, the rare public put-down of his team, Benevides' comments and the player moves demonstrated a clear dissatisfaction with a club that still has more wins than losses and appears headed for a playoff game.

"We're a winning football team," said Benevides. "I believe in our people, I believe in our team and, certainly, we need to get better and we're going to."

If the Lions don't get out of their malaise, they risk playing on the road in the post-season as the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Calgary Stampeders appear to have a lock on the first two playoff spots in the Western Conference.

The Lions hope to improve on mixed results with their offence. Quarterback Travis Lulay has passed for more than 300 yards in the past two games, after he could not get past that benchmark earlier in the season. But Lulay has battled heavy pressure in recent weeks, notably against Montreal on the road in a last-minute loss three weeks ago, and Hamilton in Guelph, Ont., last week.

Buono refused to blame the offensive line, contending all 12 players have to do their part.

Benevides also pledged to get the ball more often to running back Andrew Harris who only rushed for 10 yards against Hamilton.

"For us right now every game is important," said Harris. "All these games are must wins. We're behind the 8-ball in the West right now as far as having a home playoff game."

In a rare outburst, Harris chafed following the Hamilton game about his lack of activity with the ball.

It's also evident that Benevides is becoming a little less patient with his club's results.

"The real season starts after Labour Day," said Benevides. "Well, guess what guys? We got through Labour Day and we need to play our best football."

Note: Lions receiver Marco Iannuzzi, 26, has agreed to donate his brain to the Sports Legacy Institute at Boston University following his death to assist research into head injuries. Iannuzzi suffered a concussion last October when hit by Hamilton's Dee Smith, and was left woozy against last weekend when they collided again. Iannuzzi, a Harvard graduate, is also donating his other organs for medical research after his passing.

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