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2014 CFL Western Preview - British Columbia Lions

From The Sports Network

By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor

Vancouver, BC (SportsNetwork.com) - Only a few years removed from taking home the 99th Grey Cup, the British Columbia Lions are hoping to get back to the top of the mountain as they prepare to kick off the 2014 campaign.

The Lions, under the direction of head coach Mike Benevides, finished in a tie for second place in the West Division last season, but even with consecutive wins to close out the regular season the team was quickly dismissed by Saskatchewan, the eventual Grey Cup Champion, in the first round of the playoffs.

Benevides and company are expecting a more favorable ending this time around, just like every other club that watched the Roughriders take the trophy in 2013.

British Columbia was in the middle of the CFL pack when it came to scoring offense last season, putting up 28.0 ppg, but with an average yield of 25.6 ppg there wasn't much room for error. A star performer for the Lions during their championship run in 2011, quarterback Travis Lulay is ready to lead the team once again.

Lulay had put up back-to-back seasons with at least 4,200 passing yards, but he took a few steps backward in 2013 with only 2,841 yards and 19 touchdowns through the air. Granted, that yardage total had him finishing fifth in the league, but that was partly due to the fact that there were so many key injuries to quarterbacks.

Keeping Lulay on his toes will be Kevin Glenn, who played for the Calgary Stampeders the last two years but then found himself on the new Ottawa RedBlacks roster before being acquired in a draft day trade in May. Glenn missed a number of games last season, yet still recorded the best pass efficiency rating (100.5) of his career. If nothing else, the competition for starting time and the experience that Glenn brings to the table should make things interesting.

One major change for the Lions is the loss of Nick Moore, the league's third- best receiver in 2013 with 1,105 yards on 73 catches. Granted, he only landed in the end zone six times but at least Moore, who is now with Winnipeg, could stretch the field. Emmanuel Arceneaux is back after producing 885 yards and six TDs on 51 receptions, but without another reliable option in the passing game his numbers could suffer.

A former first-round pick of the Lions, the sixth overall in 2011, Marco Iannuzzi might be ready for more responsibility. The wideout doesn't have too many big plays to his credit in three previous campaigns, but that could all change in 2014 if he is fed the ball enough.

Already a known commodity in BC, slot back Shawn Gore set the bar rather high for himself last season with eight of his 47 receptions resulting in touchdowns. He averaged just 11.7 yards per catch, but clearly he is someone the team has shown confidence in when the ball nears the goal line.

Matching Gore for the team lead in scoring, outside of kicking points of course, was running back Andrew Harris who is coming off a couple of very successful years. Harris posted four 100-yard rushing games and scored three touchdowns in a single meeting against Edmonton barely a month into last season, skewing his final numbers slightly, but still the threat is there coming out of the backfield.

As for the BC defense, all eyes will be on cornerback Cord Parks to see if he can come anywhere close to his dominating rookie campaign in 2013 when he led the West Division with six interceptions and 121 return yards, en route to being named a West Division All-Star. Parks, who debuted with an interception return for a touchdown against Calgary, also logged three fumble recoveries, one of those being returned for a score as well. Clearly Parks is a big hitter who has the potential to be a game-changer, but he will need even more support this time around to get the Lions deeper into the playoffs.

Linebacker Adam Bighill had a monster campaign in 2012 with 104 tackles and four interceptions, but last year his total number of stops dipped to 92 and he picked off only one pass. While he did match his sack total (nine) from the year prior, Bighill also recovered three fumbles, one of which turned into a major.

The battle at the quarterback position could be both a blessing and a curse for the Lions this season, so much so that it could prevent them from reaching the top of the division standings, but you can be sure that they will at least be in the running.

FACTS & FIGURES: Division - West. 2013 record - 11-7. Playoff result: Lost, 29-25, to Saskatchewan in the Grey Cup Playoffs Semi-Finals. Stadium - McMahon Stadium. Capacity - 35,650. Colors - Red, white and black.

06/23 11:15:58 ET


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