Lions licking lips over tasty passing possibilities
Jennings could be more lethal with speedy new target Williams
Chris Williams is doing some extra work after a training camp session, cutting and stopping to test his surgically repaired knee under a trainer’s watchful eye.
A few metres away, B.C. Lions quarterback Jonathon Jennings explains with the same precision what the newest addition to the club’s receiving corps brings to the table.
“Speed and intimidation,” Jennings said without missing a beat. “If I’m lined up at corner, I know I’m going to be afraid of somebody who runs like that.”
It’s early, but it’s also already pretty clear opposing defences will have a lot to worry about when facing the Lions’ aerial attack in 2017.
Apart from Williams, who signed with B.C. after two standout seasons with the Ottawa Redblacks, the Lions have the CFL’s third- and fourth-leading receivers from a year ago in Emmanuel Arceneaux and Bryan Burnham. “Explosiveness,” Jennings added when asked what comes to mind for the group as a whole. “Those guys are super dynamic. You’ve got multiple guys that can do different things.
“It’s hard to stop that threat when there’s so many of them.”
Arceneaux had 105 catches for 1,566 yards and a CFL-high 13 touchdowns in 2016, while Burnham caught 79 balls for 1,392 yards and three TDs.
Mix in Williams, who finished sixth in receiving with 1,246 yards despite missing the last four games of the regular season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus, and the Lions feel like the sky’s pretty much the limit in terms of production though the air as they look to improve on last year’s 12-6 mark.
“All across the board you’ve got guys who can be a No. 1 receiver anywhere they go,” said Burnham. “It’s pretty awesome, especially the way we’ve meshed and have been working together. There’s no egos here.
“We bring our lunch pails and we go to work.”
The Lions were confident enough in Williams’ rehabilitation to bring him on board as a big-ticket free agent in February, a move that head coach and general manager Wally Buono said should give defences pause no matter where the man who hauled in 77 catches and 10 touchdowns with the Redblacks last season lines up.
“Chris tilts the coverages,” Buono said of the 29-year-old following a morning practice on the campus of Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. “When you play against Chris Williams you’ve always got to be aware of Chris Williams.
“If nothing else, it takes some of the pressure off the other receivers.”
The Lions led the CFL with 40 passing plays of 30 yards or more in 2016, but Jennings said Williams’ ability to go deep should create even more opportunities.
“That threatens the defence so much,” said the 24-year-old quarterback set to begin his second full season as a starter. “Just that threat of going deep will allow us to run smaller things underneath and get things over top as well when they press up.”
While there’s already lots of talk about B.C.’s passing game, it should be noted the club led the league in rushing last season and tied for the third-fewest sacks allowed thanks to a resurgent offensive line that looks to be in pretty good shape heading into 2017.
Williams was part of an explosive receiver group with Ottawa, which won the Grey Cup in November, and sees similar potential with the Lions, who also have former 1,100-yard slotback Nick Moore back healthy after he tore his knee in July.
“It’s got all the capabilities to be whatever it wants to be,” said Williams. “It’s go- ing to come down to how hard we work and then you’ve got to have luck.
“You’ve got to stay healthy.”
His arm talent is elite, it really is. you can see it. chris williams on Jonathon Jennings
Jonathon Jennings’ receiving options will make for tough covers for Lions opponents this season.