Winning a Grey Cup at home is a pretty significant benchmark to start your season from, but BC Lions GM Wally Buono wouldn’t have it any other way as he travels to Atlanta and Washington D.C. this weekend for two free agent camps.
With just six weeks remaining until the club returns to Kamloops to begin putting the pieces together for another CFL season, Buono along with player personnel coordinator Neil McEvoy, receivers coach Travis Moore and secondary coach Mark Washington will see close to 200 hopefuls on this trip alone. Player personnel director Roy Shivers will also be making the trek from his home in Las Vegas.
“There is a combination of players that we will see at these camps,” said Buono. There are players we have a high level of interest in that we need to see in person before we look at contract offers, and there are those players who show up and aren't on anyone’s radar and surprise you. It sounds like an oxymoron, but you have keep an open mind to allow yourself to be surprised.”
Both camps have been fruitful in the past producing the likes of quarterback Corey Leonard who sits as the club’s number three pivot. This weekend will see very heavy participation again, but cutting down to 15 or 20 players after a few hours of physical testing and one-on-one’s can be challenging.
“We’re not going to these places to give anyone false hope,” says McEvoy. “We tell guys up front that if you’re not running the 40 in a certain time or if you play certain positions that we do not have a need for then we do not want you to register. We have a pretty deep roster right now as far as imports go, so if these guys are coming out of these camps and eventually making their way to Kamloops it’s because we believe they have an opportunity to possibly make us better.”
The Lions will stage two other free agent camps in Dallas and Seattle in mid-May, but there is a lot on the player front happening in the meantime. The NFL Draft goes next weekend and the CFL will hold its annual draft on May 3rd. Both of those have an obvious effect on how the team comes together.
“We’re in good shape with our draft as far as our thoughts on top players by position,” added McEvoy. “The NFL Draft is always interesting because there are way more guys who along with their agents feel they will be drafted than actually do get selected, so the first two weeks of May have a lot of guys scrambling for opportunities. We get a lot of guys saying they want to wait before they commit to us which is understandable, but the downside for some of those fringe players is that we may have filled that spot before they come to the realization that the NFL is not an option. Sometimes we do wait and we get a player who probably should have been drafted or at least been given a priority free agent contract but was overlooked and we get a very good prospect.”
With a camp roster of about 80 players to be completed in the next six weeks fans can expect plenty of free agent announcements.
“It’s the calm before the storm,” says Buono. “We’ve had a great offseason signing our own free agents and adding some veteran players like Byron Parker, Lin-J Shell and Stu Foord. Now we move from a period of preperation into the prospect phase and it can really make a difference five or six months down the road.”
BC Lions Training Camp presented by Sun Peaks Resort is slated to begin in Kamloops on Wednesday, May 30th as first-year Leos hit the field for a four-day minicamp. Veterans will take to the turf at Hillside Stadium for the first time on Sunday, June 3rd.