EDMONTON, Alta. — Watching from the sidelines while Mike Reilly earns his $725,000 salary as the Lions’ saviour and starting quarterback is a job for someone craving an education, not the spotlight.
The three B.C. Lions who want that job took their first official class at the school of hard knocks (and sacks, drops and misreads) on Sunday at Commonwealth Stadium. And it became obvious how steep a learning curve this will be for Cole Sears, Austin Apodaca and Ricky Lloyd. The youngsters combined to complete just 13 of 31 pass attempts for 125 yards, two interceptions and exactly zero offensive points in an entirely predictable 22-7 pre-season loss to the Eskimos.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Lloyd, who went three-for-six and emerged with the best percentage and the most passing yards, with 53. “We’ve got to get back into our playbooks and produce better, you know. It was a tough day out there for all three of us. It’s a big learning curve. In training camp it’s a slower pace. When you get out here it’s different and it’s something you have to get used to.”
The Lions’ only points were delivered by Shakeir Ryan on a 63-yard punt return that briefly gave B.C. a 7-3 lead. That edge soon disappeared as Edmonton’s defence took control and B.C.’s pivots took their lumps.
“We’ve got to get better reads there, they’ve got to let the ball go, they’ve got to settle down and relax,” said head coach DeVone Claybrooks. “But you know, it’s the first pre-season game seven days (into camp), so we should get better.”
The organization will be as patient as it can be with the youngsters. After a week at camp, they needed some more intense trial by fire, far more than a grizzled vet like Reilly needed another pre-season start.
“I always tell everybody I want to play every snap of every game. As you become a veteran, even though you say you still feel that way, maybe things change a little bit,” Reilly said last week in Kamloops. “The reality is this game happens so quick and they’re evaluating the young guys, so I would understand if I don’t play.”
He stayed in B.C. and the kids went to school.
“We have several young guys, virtual unknowns, that’s why this game was extremely important for them,” Lions’ GM Ed Hervey said at halftime. “It kicks off the start of their opportunity to be the backup. You can never simulate this type of action in practice.”
The Lions blew up the depth chart at quarterback during the off-season. They let Jonathon Jennings get to free agency, and he landed in Ottawa. They signed Reilly and then Travis Lulay retired to a job in the front office. Some teams might have opted for experience at backup, but the Lions went another route and sound committed to it.
“We feel our young guys can get it done once the game starts to slow down for them, but it’s very important for our fans and our coaches to understand that we’re in the process of developing young quarterbacks,” continued Hervey.
“We can’t always run to the recycle bin and grab someone for just in case. If there are guys out there and we had to make that move, we would make that move, if an injury (to Reilly) occurred. But at this juncture, we feel very confident in the fact that our young guys need the reps and if you bring a veteran in, the reps are stolen.”
Sears is 22, Apodaca 25 and Lloyd 26. None of them has thrown a regular-season pass in the Canadian Football League. Apodaca’s experience, for lack of a better word, leads the pack. He was the No. 3 pivot through four games with the Montreal Alouettes last year, two more games than Lloyd managed in the No. 3 role with the Lions in 2018.
“From watching them in practice, you see the potential is there,” said Hervey.
The players and Lions need to unlock it, and it can be done in part by watching Reilly and learning from him.
“Do we expect them to be Mike Reilly or somebody who is a veteran’s calibre? No. But at the end of the day, they need to be functional in the offence and they have to be efficient,” said Hervey. “That’s what we expect from these quarterbacks as they continue to go through this evaluation process.”
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