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From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor
DATE & TIME: Friday, June 29, 10:00 p.m. (et).
GAME NOTES: A rematch of the 99th Grey Cup takes center stage during the first week of the CFL's 2012 regular season, as the British Columbia Lions entertain the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at B.C. Place Stadium.
The Lions, who began the 2011 campaign with five consecutive defeats and six setbacks in the first seven outings, could have easily packed it in and cruised through the second half of the season, but instead head coach Wally Buono lit a fire under his players and eventually led them to an eight-game win streak and victories in 12 of their final 13 contests, the last of those being a 34-23 triumph in the title game in their own building.
A lot has changed for the Lions since then, chief among them being Buono's move from the sidelines back behind a desk with the organization and turning the head coaching duties over to Mike Benevides.
Benevides will be leaning heavily on quarterback Travis Lulay for on-the-field guidance to begin the season. Lulay had a breakout year for the Lions in 2011, throwing for more than 4,800 yards and 32 touchdowns, while keeping his interceptions (11) to a minimum. Although he completed only 58.7 percent of his pass attempts, he was still among the top-ranked signal-callers when it came to efficiency rating (95.8).
Not afraid to try his hand at running the ball, Lulay was second among quarterbacks in rushing in 2011 with his 391 yards and while the prospect of catching defenses napping is certainly one that should work in favor of Lulay and BC, putting the starting quarterback in harm's way too often is also a prescription for disaster.
What the Lions really need is for someone to emerge as an efficient running back to take some of the pressure off Lulay's shoulders. Andrew Harris could fill that role, having led the team in rushing with 458 yards on 96 carries a season ago, but the fact that he had more fumbles (three) than touchdowns (one) is something that cannot be completely overlooked.
The job of making Lulay look good down the field again falls on Geroy Simon, who finished second in the league last year with 1,350 receiving yards. Simon, who had one of the better per-catch averages (16.1 yards) in the CFL, landed in the end zone eight times for the Lions. One of the all-time leaders in CFL history in terms of receiving yards (15,087), Simon now has nine straight campaigns with at least 1,000 yards receiving (matching the second-longest streak in CFL history), but players typically begin to decline after years of wear and tear on their bodies and Simon is no different.
Simon might not be the receiver in the cross hairs for the Lions every week if someone like Arland Bruce were capable of maintaining a consistent level of production. An enigmatic player to say the least, Bruce is a talent who should be shredding defenses on a regular basis, but you can never be sure what is going on in his head which might be why he has been bouncing from one team to the next for the last few years.
Make no mistake, Bruce is certainly a skilled receiver who has more than 10,000 yards in his career, it is just that he can be high maintenance and the payoff is not always worth the price.
Another slotback, Shawn Gore, had just one TD a year ago on 60 catches and somewhat faded in the second half of the season after a strong start, but he is someone that Lulay should be able to lean on as well.
Over on the other side the Blue Bombers, led by head coach Paul LaPolice, got some sobering news within the last few days as they found out that running back Chris Garrett had been lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon suffered on Tuesday. Garrett was projected to be the lead runner for the Bombers after delivering 576 yards and four TDs a year ago, but now the team has to regroup and figure out the next best mode of attack.
The loss of Garrett will probably add some more pressure to starting quarterback Buck Pierce, as he attempts to rebound from a 2011 season filled with both highs and lows. Pierce was able to get the Bombers into the championship round where he threw for 250 yards and a pair of majors, but too often he and the Winnipeg offense stalled.
Perhaps Pierce wasn't completely 100 percent following his injury in 2010, but you can bet that he's determined to put forth just as much effort moving forward.
With the running back position now up in the air, it is even more important for receivers such as Terrence Edwards to assume more of the responsibility. The leading receiver for the Bombers the last two years, Edwards has delivered at least 1,000 yards in four of the last five seasons and will again be a prime target for Pierce.
These two squads faced off a total of three times last year, with Winnipeg capturing the two regular-season tilts (25-20 and 30-17), but the Blue Bombers would have gladly traded those in for a more favorable outcome in the championship game.
Obviously the Blue Bombers have revenge as a motivating factor for this meeting, but having to play in the same building where they bowed to the Lions in the title tilt will again be tough to overcome.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: British Columbia 28, Winnipeg 20
06/27 11:05:49 ET
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