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For the first time in years the general manager of the BC Lions isn't sure who the coach believes the defending Grey Cup champions should select in the upcoming CFL Canadian college draft.
It's a rare situation for Wally Buono, who for nine years carried the title as both coach and GM. Buono passed the coaching duties onto Mike Benevides in December but retained his job as general manager plus vice-president of football operations.
"I don't know the thoughts of the coach,'' Buono said in a recent interview. "I have to get his thoughts.
"Sometimes having two minds working is better than one mind. Now if two people agree on the same thing then it validates that too."
When he was the head coach Buono would sit in on meetings with the assistant coaches who would rank the top college prospects.
"Now I don't have to be in those coach's meetings," said Buono."I am going to listen to what Mike says and he's going to listen to what I tell him.
"Unfortunately or fortunately, the GM has a higher ranking than the head coach. We discuss it. When we come out of it we have an agreement on which is the pecking order. We usually don't deviate from that so we don't get into a confrontation when it's the least productive."
The Lions have the fourth (obtained from Montreal in the Sean Whyte trade), seventh, 14th, 37th and 38th pick in the May 3 draft. Like any general manager Buono is guarded about who he likes or what his team's needs are.
"You try to take the best player available that also fits your needs," he said. “Are we going to be able to satisfy three of our four needs? It's relative to what is our greatest need, what's our next greatest need."
The Lions will return this year with all the offensive starters from the team that beat Winnipeg in November's Grey Cup game. One familiar face missing is backup quarterback Jarious Jackson who was released in February.
The offensive line remains intact but looking down the road the Lions must find a replacement for centre Angus Reid. The 35-year-old from Richmond, BC, has battled elbow, foot, neck and knee injuries in recent years but is returning for another season.
"Angus has given us two bonus years we probably never expected and I'm not sure he expected," said Buono.
On defence, Brent Johnson retired leaving Sean Ortiz as BC's only Canadian defensive lineman. Hard-hitting linebacker Solomon Elimimian agreed to a contract with the NFL Minnesota Vikings while defensive tackle Aaron Hunt signed as a free agent with Montreal.
The draft features several defensive linemen including Tryone Crawford, a six-foot-four, 273-pound native of Windsor, Ont., who is attending Boise State, and Christo Bilukidi, a six-foot-five, 290-pound Ottawa native who is at Georgia State. Both are projected to go in the NFL draft which may cause Canadian teams to hesitate in selecting them.
Justin Capicciotti, a six-foot-three, 245-pound defensive lineman from Toronto, who attends Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC, showed very well at the CFL evaluation camp.
BC plans to use five American defensive linemen this year, meaning the Lions can be patient. Buono could draft a player heading to the NFL then wait to see if they return to the CFL.
As for centre, the Lions plan to groom from within. In the past Dean Valli has played centre while Canadian Adam Baboulas could be trained for the role.
The Lions have enjoyed success in the Canadian draft. Last year BC selected receiver Marco Iannuzzi from Harvard with the sixth pick overall. Other selections included kicker Hugh O'Neill and defensive back Michael Carter.
In 2010, Buono used the fourth overall pick to take offensive tackle Danny Watkins. The Philadelphia Eagles picked Watkins in the first round of the 2011 draft. In 2010 Buono also selected slotback Shawn Gore and wide receiver Akeem Foster, who both played roles in BC's championship season.
Buono believes patience is the key to the draft. Rarely does a Canadian step into a starting role with a CFL team.
"Anybody we are drafting this year...I don't expect to come in and be a starter,'' he said. "I do expect them to be part of our 42 or 46-man roster.
"There is usually a period of time they have to be acclimated, grown, and then you throw them into the fire. Hopefully within a year you give them the opportunity to be a player."
Players with NFL potential are a calculated gamble.
"You can't be afraid to take some of these quality guys," said Buono."If a guy gets taken in the (NFL's) first round and you draft him, then you are pretty dumb because you're not going to get them.
"A guy that signs as a free agent, you're saying it's worth taking a risk. If you get him, you usually get him for a very long time."
BC picks that have returned to the CFL after a stint in the NFL include Gore and offensive tackle John Hameister-Ries.
Overall Buono thinks there is plenty of talent in this year's draft.
"There should be good football players (even) after the second round," he said."In some drafts (after the second) you are really stretching it."