BRITISH COLUMBIA

Limping Lions: Crowded sick bay not an excuse for injury-plagued B.C. Lions

10/01/2014 08:33 EDT | Updated 12/01/2014 05:59 EST
SURREY, B.C. - B.C. Lions slotback Shawn Gore did a double take when he walked into the team's training room earlier this week.

Two more key players went down in Saturday's 14-7 loss to the Calgary Stampeders — star running back Andrew Harris with a separated left ankle, and emerging wide receiver Bryan Burnham with a laceration to his spleen.

Both are gone for the season and join quarterback Travis Lulay (right shoulder) and slotback Courtenay Taylor (foot), among many others, in a sick bay bursting at the seams.

"I've never seen this. I've never gone into the infirmary and seen so many people in there," Gore said after Wednesday's practice. "When we came in for the first day of practice this week, I couldn't believe it.

"But new guys have to step up. That's why you're here."

Two of those players are running backs Keola Antolin and Bradley Randle, who could be pressed into action in place of Stefan Logan (leg contusion) and Tim Brown (groin) on Saturday when the Lions visit the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

The next carry for either Antolin or Randle will be their first in the CFL, although the former has been with the Lions since training camp and impressed in pre-season.

"Thanks for letting me know," B.C. head coach Mike Benevides deadpanned when a reporter pointed out the lack of experience in the backfield. "You have to deal with it. I always look at it as an opportunity.

"A lot of times you think you know (what you have in a player), but you need the game time to really expose that."

The versatile Antolin has been taking reps with the first team this week and could start for the Lions (7-6), who sit fourth in the West Division, a game up on Winnipeg and two back of Edmonton and Saskatchewan.

"It's going good. I'm getting used to all the plays and stuff like that," said the 24-year-old Arizona product. "It's the end of the season, people get banged up and I've got to step up.

"There's no pressure. They're just saying to stay calm, be yourself and go out and play football like you've been doing for so long."

Antolin turned some heads in camp and Benevides is eager to see what he can do against Hamilton (5-7), which has won three straight to grab the East Division lead.

"Extremely explosive athlete, great jump cut, thick, physical, and any time he (played) in the pre-season, he really exploded on the field and performed at a high level," said Benevides. "He's been here all year, he knows the offence.

"A lot of guys have gotten opportunities (because of injuries) ... we need to capitalize and he needs to capitalize on that. Next man up. He's the one that's got the chance and he's working hard and we'll see how it goes."

Randle, meanwhile, was brought in just this week after spending parts of last season on the Minnesota Vikings' practice roster.

"I'm just coming up here to help out the team, whether it's offence, defence or special teams," the 24-year-old out of UNLV said after his second workout with the Lions. "I just want to make sure I do well and I'm going hard to better the team.

"The veterans have been helping me out. We have five games left and I want to help them get to that Grey Cup."

The Lions are a long way from that spectacle right now — a game that will be played at B.C. Place Stadium on Nov. 30 — and need to find a way to score more often with fewer weapons, especially coming off that loss in Calgary where their only points came on their first drive.

"I think the biggest thing is for us to play with confidence, play with speed," said Benevides, whose team topped Hamilton 36-29 at home in Week 7. "No difference than how we started last week, but let's stay consistent. Lord willing we won't get any injuries during the game.

"We did well against this football team the last time we played them. We've just got to find a level of consistency — make the catch that's required, make the block that's required, make the good decision and at the end of it we should be fine."

The Lions might have to also find other ways of getting on the scoreboard against the Tiger-Cats, and that suits linebacker Solomon Elimimian and his No. 1 defence just fine.

"My mindset on defence is it's always going to be on our shoulders and we have to always make plays," said Elimimian, who leads the CFL with 108 tackles. "That's our mindset regardless of what the offence does our doesn't do, and that doesn't really change.

"Obviously it's a tough position because we have a lot of key injuries in key spots but that's what a team's about — everybody putting something in collectively and getting something out."

Injuries have been a consistent storyline for the Lions going all the way back to training camp, but neither Benevides or his players are using that chatter as a crutch with the regular season winding down.

"It's been a challenge," said the head coach. "I've never seen anything like it, but it's one of those things where it's never an excuse, and it can't be. If anything, it gives the young men and opportunity and they've got to perform."