KAMLOOPS, B.C. – Khari Jones stepped in for a snap at B.C. Lions’ training camp on Monday morning and launched a tight spiral down the sideline reminiscent of his time as a CFL quarterback.
In some ways, it represented what the club’s new offensive co-ordinator hopes to accomplish in 2014.
Jones was hired this off-season to kickstart a Lions attack that had been criticized in recent years for being both predictable and conservative under Jacques Chapdelaine.
The team parted ways with its former offensive co-ordinator in November and handed the keys to Jones, whose aggressive philosophy as a player seems to have followed him into coaching.
It was one of two big off-season hires — Mark Washington was promoted from defensive backs coach to defensive co-ordinator — and a move the Lions hope will help get them back to the Grey Cup.
“I hope it’s a high-powered offence,” said Jones. “I hope it’s an offence where we can put points up on the board, because that’s what wins you football games, but a balanced offence as well. An offence that uses its weapons, and we have a lot of weapons on this team.
Lions head coach Mike Benevides said he expects Jones’ personality to be reflected in his play calling for a team that has not won a playoff game since its victory in the 2011 Grey Cup and will be feeling the pressure to perform with the big game set for Vancouver again this November.
“He’s going to find a lot of ways to get matchups and tempo and things like that — things he believes from the quarterback position,” said Benevides. “He’s had enough experience as a player and as a coach to understand how you have to make sure you stay balanced, you attack and find ways to expose your athletes.”
Lions starting quarterback Travis Lulay said Jones wants his offence to be on the front foot in all aspects of the game, something the team didn’t always do last season.
“One of the big things and one of the first points of emphasis he says is we want to be aggressive,” said Lulay. “We want to be aggressive when we’re running the football, we want to be aggressive when we’re throwing the football.
“We want to have a confident, fast-playing, high-tempo attitude and approach to the game. We don’t want to be passive, we don’t want to be back on our heels.”
Jones started his playing career with the Lions in 1997 before moving on and having his best years with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He spent the last two seasons coaching quarterbacks with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and before that he held the same position with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for three years, including one as offensive co-ordinator.
Lions No. 2 quarterback Kevin Glenn — who could start the season in the top job if Lulay isn’t fully recovered from shoulder surgery — played for Jones with Hamilton for three seasons and said one of his best attributes is his ability to put players in a position to succeed.
“I think he does a very good job of learning a guy’s skillset and being able to exploit the defence,” said Glenn. “He’s just one of those guys who believes in his players. It’s not going to be a situation where he thinks he has to trick the defence into doing something. He’s going to say ‘Hey, we’re going to line up and we’re going to beat you.’
“He’s an aggressive offensive co-ordinator and I think that’s because he was an aggressive quarterback.”
Aggression is a common theme at Lions’ camp and is also something players use to characterize Washington, B.C.’s new defensive co-ordinator after six seasons coaching the secondary.
“Mark doesn’t even like the word ‘defence.’ He thinks it’s kind of passive,” said Lions defensive back Ryan Phillips. “He wants to be aggressive and smart.”
Washington, who replaced Rich Stubler in the off-season, said he wants his defence to force the issue at all times, but not necessarily in the classic sense of the word.
“When we say we want to attack, attack, attack, people automatically believe that that’s going to be blitz, blitz, blitz, pressure, pressure, pressure, but that’s not always the case,” said Washington, himself a former defensive back with the Lions. “Attacking is a mentality. Attacking is we’re not going to sit back and let you dictate to us. We’re going to dictate terms to you.”
Benevides was the Lions’ defensive co-ordinator when Washington first got the job to coach the secondary and is confident his former pupil is ready for the challenge.
“What I know about Mark is he’s an outstanding teacher,” said Benevides. “He’s a guy that understands what it takes to win, a tremendous competitor. Even when he was a player, he made sure he had some answers to attack the opponent.”
Phillips said even though be has a new job, Washington hasn’t altered his approach to the game or his players.
“Just because they changed his title, it didn’t mean he changed himself. He’s been the same since he started coaching. He’s going to be a guy who wants to work,” said Phillips. “He was the same way as a player — a guy that went out and worked hard, did the things he had to do and took it to the next level.”
After two straight disappointing seasons and a year ahead filled with the added pressure of being Grey Cup hosts, the Lions are banking that both Jones and Washington can help them climb even further.