Lions’ secondary knows it needs to step up

SURREY, B.C. — The focus for the B.C. Lions’ secondary coming into this season was improving on last year’s CFL-low nine interceptions.

The unit has already eclipsed that mark in 2017, but another problem has bubbled to the surface with the team on a three-game losing streak — surrendering the big play.

While the Lions have picked off 12 passes, they’ve also allowed a league-high 21 completions of over 30 yards, which is part of the reason B.C. finds itself in the basement of the ultra-competitive West Division with a 5-5 record.

All facets of the Lions’ game will have to improve for the franchise to make the playoffs for a 21st consecutive season — the club has made a switch at quarterback, with veteran Travis Lulay replacing Jonathon Jennings — and the secondary is no different.

“That’s one of the points we addressed,” B.C. head coach and general manager Wally Buono said after Tuesday’s practice. ”If you eliminate half of those mistakes, (and) most of them have been mistakes, that would elevate us and probably would have given us another win or two.

“You’re going to get beat sometimes, and there’s plays that we’ve got beat on, but when you eliminate a large portion that have been from a lack of discipline, mental mistakes or lack of communication, that makes you a better football team.”

Like last year, the Lions have had to shuffle players in and out of the defensive backfield because of injury, sometimes resulting in multiple position switches during the course of a game.

As a result, there have been instances where it’s clear most of the secondary is playing a certain type of coverage, while another player is on a completely different page, creating massive holes.

Ronnie Yell, who missed the second half of 2016 with a broken foot, said the group knows it can be better.

“Anybody who steps in there has to play to the highest ability and not miss a beat,” said Yell, a fourth-year corner tied for the club lead with three interceptions. “I can’t put the young guys and the rotation as an excuse.

“We all just have to raise our level of play. It’s that simple.”

The Lions are coincidentally the CFL’s best team against the run, having given up just over 75 yards against per game, but also have just 15 sacks — tied for last — and own the fewest quarterback pressures at 50.

But Buono refused to lay blame at his the feet of his linebackers or defensive linemen when it comes to B.C.’s struggles in the secondary.

“I’m not saying that we can’t improve our pass rush, but don’t equate (defensive back’s) mistakes, the lack of discipline with pass rush,” said Buono. “Communication, mistakes, freelancing … that has nothing to do with the pass rush.”

While his coach might not want to spread the blame around for the Lions’ susceptibility to big plays through the air, linebacker Solomon Elimimian said there’s been plenty of culprits with the Montreal Alouettes (3-7) set to visit B.C. Place Stadium on Friday night.

“We take that upon ourselves as a whole defence,” said Elimimian, who leads the CFL with 73 defensive tackles. “When you see big plays with guys wide open, it has to be communication — mental lapses and focus. All it takes is one.

“You can have 99 great plays and then one mental lapse for a big play. That’s something we have to shore up.”

And shore up quickly, or else the Lions will remain on the outside looking in.

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