Centre Angus Reid and defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell made Benevides' transition to field boss from defensive co-ordinator easier as they re-signed with the Lions this week. Benevides said they "absolutely" will help him in his new role after making difficult personal decisions to stay.
"Having those guys with us and behind me is outstanding," Benevides said Thursday during a media availability at the Lions practice facility. "I value veterans. They've gone to war with us, they know how to win and it helps because they know how to be pros. They know how to control a locker room."
Both Reid and Mitchell played key roles last season as the Lions became the first team in CFL history to overcome a 0-5 start and win a Grey Cup. Reid helped the B.C. offence reverse its fortunes as he assisted in the maturation of quarterback Travis Lulay en route to the pivot earning the CFL Most Outstanding Player award.
Mitchell, a dominant pass rusher, improved a defensive line after Eric Taylor went down with an injury.
"When you look at why we were 2011 Grey Cup champions, I think (Mitchell) and (Reid) were a big part of that," said general manager Wally Buono. "They were anchors on the line of scrimmage. And when you look at the reason why we won a lot of games, it was the line of scrimmage."
Reid, a 35-year-old Richmond, B.C., native who has battled elbow, foot, neck and knee injuries in recent seasons, put off retirement in a bid for a third Grey Cup title. He decided to return shortly after the Lions won the Cup with a win over Winnipeg at B.C. Place Stadium, but waited until after Christmas to see how his body felt after Christmas.
"It's worn down. It's not worn out yet," said Reid, who was chosen as an all-star for the first time in his career in 2011.
Reid said he knows he still wants to play because he has not lost his excitement for off-field workouts. Although he did not discuss the issue Thursday, Reid said previously he would only return if he could be a starter. Buono, who relinquished his coaching duties to concentrate on his GM duties after the Lions won the title, tried to turn him into a backup a few seasons ago, but he does not seem to have any qualms about Reid starting.
"In age, he's gotten better," said Buono. "I guess he is like a fine wine."
Mitchell, a 26-year-old Virginia Beach, Va., native rejected a lucrative offer from the NFL's Miami Dolphins to return to the Lions, whom he joined in late 2010. His decision to return caught both Benevide and Buono off guard. The two football veterans said they had never seen a player reject an NFL offer to stay in the CFL.
The Dolphins actually announced that Mitchell had signed a futures contract after a former agent agreed to the terms on his behalf. But Mitchell,whose six-foot-five and 315-pound frame has the size coveted by NFL clubs, said he could not get on a scheduled flight to Miami and put pen to paper.
"If I put my signature on it, then I've gotta accept everything that comes along with signing that name and signing my life to that — and I didn't want to do that," said Mitchell.
He and two agents parted ways as a result of his preference for the CFL. Mitchell actually worked out his deal with the Lions with assistance from teammate Korey Banks.
"Khalif, honestly, was a big surprise to me," said Buono. "I just assumed that he was going to go south and give the NFL an opportunity."
Mitchell, a self-trained classic pianist who is known for his quirky ways, said he feels more comfortable in the Lions "family." He plans to live near the Lions' practice facility in Surrey during most of the off-season, do community service and travel to Whistler and other parts of the province.
He is not worried that others might question his mental fortitude because he has turned down the big NFL money.
"They thought I was crazy before," said Mitchell.
Note: Benevides said he hopes all of the team's pending free agents, including defensive lineman Aaron Hunt and defensive backs Dante Marsh and Ryan Phillips, will return. ... Veteran defensive end Brent Johnson has not yet decided whether to retire or return. The Lions want him back and are giving him time to contemplate his future.