LIVESTREAM (Free): CFL – Winnipeg Blue Bombers @BC Lions, Sat. June 15, 7p (10p EDT, 4a June 15 CEDT)

VANCOUVER – Two of the CFL’s premier quarterbacks are set to square off, as the BC Lions and Mike Reilly open their 2019 season against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Matt Nichols Saturday night at BC Place.

Saturday will be Reilly’s first game in orange and black since 2012. His resume with the Edmonton Eskimos speaks for itself – the 2017 Most Outstanding Player Award, three straight seasons of at least 5,500 passing yards and a Grey Cup ring. His signing with the Leos in the off-season was touted as a homecoming, since Reilly began his CFL career with BC.

Reilly’s quarterback counterpart for the Blue Bombers is his former backup in Edmonton. Nichols and Reilly went head-to-head in an open competition for the starting job with the Esks in 2013. Said competition was ended prematurely when Nichols tore his ACL in the first pre-season game, giving Reilly the reins to the offence. Nichols was traded to Winnipeg in 2015 and hasn’t looked back.

“No matter what football throws at me, I think I’ve seen it all now,” Nichols told BlueBombers.com. “I have a pretty good outlook going into this season that nothing is going to negatively affect me. I’ve been through it all now.”

» Depth Charts: WPG | BC

While the Lions were one of many CFL franchises that made key changes in the off-season – only three quarterbacks and four head coaches remain from Week 1 of 2018 – the Bombers held steady in the off-season. Many of their key playmakers are returning, including reigning Most Outstanding Defensive Player Adam Bighill.

“Now that we have our roster, I definitely feel like, on paper, we have a better roster than we did last year,” said Bighill. “That’s not a slight on anything or on anyone. It’s just about the new guys that have come in and the pieces we’ve added.”

For the second consecutive year, the Bombers will not be at full strength for their season opener. Nichols was injured in training camp, forcing him to miss the first three games of 2018, and this season, receiver Chris Matthewsand offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld are on the one-game injured list.

Matthews is slated to be one of Nichols’ favourite targets this season, along with returning wideouts Darvin Adamsand Nic Demski. The offence also boasts the 2018 league rushing leader, Andrew Harris, who will play against his former team.

“As much success as I’ve had, there have always been naysayers and there always will be,” said Harris. “That’s just part of this business. A lot of people take that negatively. I take it and turn it into a positive thing for me. It just works for me.”

Lucky Whitehead and Kenny Lawler will both make their first starts with the Bombers at receiver.

For the Bombers’ defence, Saturday will be somewhat of a homecoming. In addition to Bighill, starters Chandler Fenner, Anthony Gaitor and Winston Rose have all played for the Lions, as well as backup defensive end Craig Roh.

Among a handful of new faces on Winnipeg’s defence, Willie Jefferson may be the most exciting. Jefferson was one of the league’s top free agents this off-season after recording 10 sacks, two interceptions and two touchdowns.

Joining Reilly on the Leos is new head coach DeVone Claybrooks. Long considered one of the best defensive coordinators in the league, the 41-year-old, askew cap-wearing former defensive lineman has brought a culture change to the Lions.

“We’re a fast, physical team that likes to fly around,” Claybrooks told BCLions.com. “We’re going to work hard. We’re going to enjoy the process, and that means allowing the players to be themselves, but in the team concept.”

FORMER DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR DEVONE CLAYBROOKS WAS HIRED TO BE THE LIONS’ HEAD COACH (BCLIONS.COM)

In addition to Reilly and Claybrooks, the polarizing Duron Carter finds his way to the West Coast, joining a receiving core with returning stalwarts Bryan Burnham and Shaq Johnson. Canadian Lemar Durant also signed with the Lions after winning the 106th Grey Cup with the Calgary Stampeders.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Lions gave up the second-fewest passing yards-per-game last season, but had the seventh-best run defence. Linebackers Chris Edwards and Maleki Harris were added to a front seven that already includes Odell Willis, but Claybrooks and defensive coordinator Rich Stubler working with the defence could make them one of the most formidable in the league.

“I feel like we got better on the defensive side, coaching-wise and player-wise” said Willis. “We’re not worried about Andrew Harris, we’re just worried about ourselves. It all depends on what we do.”

On offence, the Lions’ running back tandem of Brandon Rutley and John White will attempt to go toe-to-toe on the ground with Harris. Injuries have limited White to just nine games over the last two seasons, but he will be looking to regain the form that saw him rush for more than 800 yards in 2014 and 2016. The 28-year-old is also plenty familiar with Reilly – they spent five seasons together in Edmonton from 2013 to 2017.

The Lions go into Saturday’s contest with nine projected Canadian starters, including four on the offensive line. Former draft pick Brett Boyko will make his debut at right tackle after spending time south of the border. On defence, Dominique Termansen will start at corner.

BY THE NUMBERS

62 – Darvin Adams is 62 receiving yards away from 4,000 for his career.

7-2 – BC Place was a fortress for the Lions in 2018, it was their 2-7 road record that was their downfall.

2015 – The last time Winnipeg won a game in Week 1. That’s the longest active drought in the league.

AFI, Yare Media and the CFL

American Football International is collaborating with Yare Media and the Canadian Football League to present 2019 CFL games live. This is more than a livestream. This is a stream of the top flight TSN network television broadcast.

LIVE STREAM: CFL – Winnipeg Blue Bombers @BC Lions, Sat. June 15, 7p (10p EDT, 4a June 15 CEDT)

CFL
Today's CFL is more than just our great game of football. It's fans sharing their excitement for what they see on the field, and what they experience off it. Stay up to date on all the non-stop action at CFL.ca. And join all of Canada as we celebrate the 105th Grey Cup, presented by Shaw, this November in Ottawa.
Skip to toolbar