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Ed Willes: The Lions’ biggest problem is the easiest one to fix

When last we left Wally Buono, the B.C. Lions head coach was facing a rat’s nest of problems which threatened to derail what had been a promising CFL season.

The most concerning of these was a three-game losing streak which suddenly imperilled the Lions’ hold on a playoff spot. Beyond that there were also a series of micro-issues which needed his urgent attention.

In no particular order, they were an offence which was prone to turnovers; an inconsistent offensive line which seemed to be able to protect the quarterback but couldn’t sustain a running game; a tepid pass rush which exposed holes in the secondary; and a return game with the once-feared Chris Rainey which no longer scared anyone.

So in the bye week between a devastating loss in Ottawa last weekend and the Lions next game this Friday against Montreal, Buono figured to have his plate full reconfiguring his roster in an attempt to plug his team’s many holes. But when asked about potential changes, the old Lion pointed to the one big change he announced following the loss in Ottawa which he believes will be the Leos’ magic bullet.

And if it isn’t, it could be their problems are beyond repair.

“You see the obvious in the CFL right now,” Buono said from the Surrey practice facility after taking a four-day break.

“If your quarterbacking isn’t very good, your team struggles. It’s the reality.

“Just use the Ottawa game as a snapshot. When the offence executed, the whole team was good. When the offence didn’t execute, the team wasn’t very good. That fixes more problems than me changing a player on defence or special teams.”

In other words, this team will go as far as Travis Lulay can take it and not a step further. One player isn’t supposed to make that big a difference in a team game. The quarterback in the CFL is the exception to that rule.

The Lions get back to work on Sunday in preparation for the Als, and it figures there will be some changes in their work-place environment. One of the players who’ll get a look in the new world order is Ken Boatright, the former Seahawks’ defensive end who might bolster the pass rush. Buono also said he’s looking for an offensive lineman to push Antonio Johnson and Kelvin Palmer, the two imports who start at the tackle spots.

B.C. Lions quarterback Jonathon Jennings has had a rough three-game stretch, and will be replaced by Travis Lulay as the starter.

But, beyond some minor tinkering, Buono doesn’t see a lot of change for his team. That’s because he still believes in his core group, and more importantly, he believes in Lulay, who steps in for Jonathon Jennings as the Lions’ starting QB.

“We’re trying to bring a (an offensive lineman) in, but, honestly, our offensive line is decent,” Buono said. “When the quarterback is executing, the offensive line is fine.

“I can only go by what I (saw in Ottawa). When our offence was moving the football, our defence played better and our special teams were better. We have to be able to score points. If we do that our defence and special teams are good enough.”

So is Lulay the answer to all the Lions’ questions? Well, in his 4 1/2 games, his numbers have been impressive. Granted it’s a small sample size, but Lulay has the CFL’s highest quarterback rating and the highest efficiency rating. Against Ottawa, he threw for 202 yards in the second half, and on the season he’s averaging 368 yards per game.

True, there is the matter of seven interceptions against 10 touchdown passes, but the Lions are also 3-1 in the games Lulay has seen the bulk of the action and he almost brought them back from a 31-3 deficit in Ottawa with a 21-point fourth quarter.

If Lulay is that productive the rest of the season, the Lions might be able to recalibrate their course.

The other question about Lulay and the offence concerns the weapons which will be placed at his disposal. Going back to training camp, the Lions envisioned a receiving corps with Manny Arceneaux, Bryan Burnham, Nick Moore and Chris Williams which, for a variety of reasons, they haven’t been able to get on the field together. Now that Moore has recovered from injury, the easiest way to facilitate this move is to play four Canadians on the offensive line, but Buono isn’t keen on that idea largely because that group has had trouble staying healthy.

He does, however, like the idea of using the elusive Rainey in the passing game.

“The likelihood of playing with four Canadian offensive lineman is slim,” Buono said. “If we want to get more speed on the field we can do that with Chris.”

As for the idea of shaking things up to send a message, that’s not Buono’s way. The CFL’s winningest coach likes to pick his team in training camp and commit to it. Right now, his philosophy is being tested but he sees no reason to change it.

“You send a message when you’re winning, not losing,” Buono said. “If we make moves it’s to improve ourselves. It’s too late if you do it for any other reason.”

That’s assuming it’s not already too late for this Lions’ team.

ewilles@postmedia.com

twitter.com/willesonsports

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