KAMLOOPS, B.C. – B.C. Lions head coach Mike Benevides wants his players to embrace the role of being Grey Cup hosts.
He told them as much before CFL training camps got going Sunday.
“I was pretty honest about it. You know what? It’s additional pressure,” said Benevides. “Every team across the country is saying the same thing — we want to win a championship. I’m not going to be dishonest and say ‘Well it’s at home so it’s no big deal.’ It is a big deal.”
The Lions started a string of three straight host teams winning the title in their own backyards with their victory at B.C. Place Stadium in 2011 and will be looking to make it a four-peat for host cities this November.
“We want to win it in front of our fans,” Benevides continued. “Last time it was here that’s exactly what occurred, and that’s what we get paid to do. Distraction, focus, motivation — call it whatever you want. That’s the No. 1 goal.”
The Lions have not won a playoff game since raising the Grey Cup three years ago, but running back Andrew Harris said he believes they have the horses to get it down in 2014.
“The expectation for us every year is to be in the Grey Cup. Obviously there’s maybe a little more added pressure, but last time it was here we won and that was a great year for us,” said the Winnipeg native. “We’re looking to do the same and I definitely think looking around and seeing the guys that we have solid chance to do that.”
That chance could rest heavily on Travis Lulay’s surgically repaired shoulder. The Lions’ quarterback was injured during last season’s 11-7 campaign and returned for their playoff loss before going under the knife.
Lulay said Sunday “it remains to be seen” if he will be ready to go when B.C. opens its regular season on June 28.
“I’m still in a stage where camp’s going to be a continued progression for me, but it has steady upward progression throughout the off-season,” said Lulay. “I’m actually really anxious to see how it recovers on a day-to-day basis coming out here.”
B.C. traded for veteran quarterback Kevin Glenn at the CFL draft as an insurance policy, and while Benevides and Lulay were both adamant the Lions’ No. 1 quarterback is on schedule, the head coach added it’s his job to make sure his star gets back to 100 per cent.
“All these guys that are elite athletes, they’re champions and MVPs,” said Benevides. “You have to make sure you help them in understanding the overall picture. He’s intelligent, he understands it, he’s been through this before but there’s no doubt that we’ll have various conversations and discuss it back and forth.”
Added Lulay: “Sometimes you think you can be Superman and overcome some of that stuff. Managing expectations is one of the biggest parts of coming off an injury and that’s one of the things I’ve learned and you have to learn to deal with that.”
The Toronto Argonauts won the Grey Cup as hosts in 2012, while the Saskatchewan Roughriders took the title on the Prairies in 2013. Both teams loaded up through trades and free agency in the off-season leading up to the CFL’s marquee event, but the Lions had a quiet winter by comparison.
What B.C. does have is a lot of fresh faces at camp both on the field and the sidelines. A number of veteran players were either traded, retired or moved on through free agency, while the club also has new offensive and defensive co-ordinators.
Khari Jones has been brought in to kick-start an offence that was criticized for being too predictable, while Mark Washington was promoted to run the defence after six seasons coaching the secondary.
“We have a lot of open positions,” Benevides said of the competitions for spots at camp. “We’re going to have a young team and we have to evaluate and find that talent.
“Our football team is going to play fast. Everything we do is fast.”
Apart from a lot of new blood and fresh schemes, the Lions who have been around awhile believe they’re also wiser as hosts because of what they went through in 2011 after starting that season 0-5.
“The biggest thing for us is just coming through adversity and staying on that one track and definitely building as a team,” said Harris. “I think we did that in 2011 and we have some components this year to make that happen again. It’s being persistent and staying at it. It’s a full 18-game season and you never know how it ends.”
Benevides was the defensive co-ordinator with that championship team and will be looking for his first playoff win as a head coach in a season he hopes will culminate with a victory for the Lions in Vancouver on Nov. 30.
“It’s a long, long journey. It’s a long, long season,” he said. “It’s about making critical plays at critical times and winning that critical game.
“Nobody can tell you how the script is going to be written, but it’s going to be written and someone’s going to stand on the podium.”
Notes: The Lions had a meeting with CFLPA representative Paul McCallum before Sunday’s first practice, a session the veteran kicker said helped clear the air of any questions players might have with regards to the threat of a strike. The league’s collective bargaining agreement expired on Thursday night. … The Lions first pre-season game is scheduled for June 13 on the road against the Edmonton Eskimos.