Lions have a Champion QB
VANCOUVER — Some great quarterbacks have had a preference for jersey No. 12 — Terry Bradshaw, from Zac Champion’s alma mater, Louisiana Tech, Kenny (The Snake) Stabler, from Champion’s home state of Alabama, Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and Dave Dickenson, whom Champion had never heard of until last week.
Certainly, the rookie QB from La-Tech raised more than a few eyebrows when he asked to be assigned Dickenson’s old number for the start of Lions training camp.
“I said, ‘ How disrespectful can that be?’ ” quipped B.C. head coach Wally Buono. “Usually, they wait a year before giving it [veteran’s number] away. Obviously, Dave must have really annoyed Kato [equipment manager Ken Kasuya].”
Just because he asked for it, don’t get the impression that Champion is some college glamour-puss. But quarterbacks do age, move on and fade away like old soldiers. Dickenson, 35, is no different. With his release by the Lions last year, No. 12 became available. Joe Kapp, who wore No. 22, is the only Lions quarterback to have his number retired.
“Stabler, Bradshaw, Brady — I’ve always liked guys like that,” Champion said yesterday. “The number 12 had significance for me before I’d even heard of Dave Dickenson. The guys were joking around, saying, ‘Who does he think he is, a bigger and taller Dickenson?’ [Champion is 6-2, 200]. They were just giving me a hard time, but I laughed and went along with it.”
Because he is new, the heralded names in Canadian football register somewhere between obscurity and anonymity, much as Champion’s name does to Lions fans. Still, he showed enough promise at rookie camp to warrant a bunk at main camp, which is more than Omar Haugabook can say. Haugabook, from Alabama’s Troy University, was released before veteran campers arrived Sunday, much to the coach’s surprise.
“He [Haugabook] was very productive in college and on film,” Buono said. “But we had concerns about his [awkward] throwing action.”
No such quibble exists with Champion, who is now fourth on the quarterback depth chart behind Jarious Jackson, Buck Pierce and Gino Guidugli.
“He [Champion] takes instruction very well,” Buono says. “If he doesn’t see the play the first time, the next time ‘Bang’. And he’s got a tremendously quick release. At the end of the day, there’s something to work with.”
Though the spotlight is on Jackson and Pierce for the starter’s job, the Lions will be sorting out who their third quarterback is going to be, and it’s not an insignificant decision.
“I believe it’s a big deal in that your third quarterback has to be potentially you’re No. 1,” Buono says. “If he isn’t, then you should eventually move on. You don’t want a third quarterback just holding a clipboard. He has to have the mental and physical abilities, even though he might not have the experience and the reps.”
Lions fans are also aware that the team needed to go through three different starting quarterbacks last season and that Guidugli, who joined the team late from the Arena League, spent 11 of the final 14 games on the active 42-man roster. With his head still spinning, trying to learn new terminology and a new game on the fly, Guidugli became the team’s backup quarterback in just his second week in the CFL.
“I was on information overload,” Guidugli remembers. “Somebody told me we’d scored a single point [against Calgary]. I’m thinking, ‘Single point? What’s that all about?’ I was still learning the playbook, to say nothing of the Canadian game.”
Now, with his orientation and settling-in period behind him, Guidugli feels he is ready to convey to his coaches and a wider world that he could be the Lions’ starter one day.
“You’re always one play away from counting on your third guy,” Buono says. “Look at Dave Dickenson and Casey Printers. As soon as they both showed they can play, the clock started ticking. Because, one day, one person is going to leave. Therefore, your third guy has to be able to progress to No. 2 and, hopefully, to No. 1.”
This young-man-shall-leadthem-one-day approach is nothing new course, of course. With Buono in Calgary, Dickenson leaned on mentors such as Doug Flutie and Jeff Garcia before they moved on and he moved in to assume CFL royalty.
When it comes to quarterbacks, a head coach has to think about the Next One, not just who starts the next game.