By David Hollinshead, Contributor
The CFL playoffs are right around the corner, and it’s interesting to look at each team and their individual chance of success. The BC Lions look primed to make another deep post-season run with a very stacked roster. What might be interesting to see is how this squad compares to the team that won the Grey Cup in 2006. Yes, the Lions won the Cup last year too, but it would be rather redundant to compare those teams when they’re essentially the same. It’s been six years since the 2006 season, and the roster looks almost nothing like it did back then, so let’s do a little compare and contrast and see how they match up.
Quarterback: Dave Dickenson vs. Travis Lulay. Dickenson carved up defenses with a 70.4 completion percentage, 3,032 yards, and 22 touchdowns to seven interceptions, for a passer rating of 111.2. The problem with Dickenson was his health. He was the first of the Lions long string of injury prone quarterbacks, and he didn’t play all 18 games that year. Lulay, in his first starting season, led the team to a Grey Cup victory, and was the league’s Most Outstanding Player throwing for 4,815 yards, and 32 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. But he only threw for a 58 per cent completion rate. Lulay has shown that he can be an exciting playmaker, but his consistency and inexperience are worrisome. With Lulay’s inconsistency, and Dickenson’s glass bones, consider this matchup a PUSH.
Running back: Joe Smith vs. Andrew Harris. Smith exploded on the scene, in his first year starting, he ran for 887 yards with a 5.3 average and nine touchdowns. He was a very talented and exciting running back, but he wasn’t much of a receiver out of the backfield. Harris you can argue is more receiver than running back, being third on the team in receiving yards and first in receptions. Harris has games where it looks like he’s getting shut down, right before he breaks off a huge run. He’s a playmaker, can hit home runs at any time, and is very versatile. He is also Canadian, which gives this matchup to 2012.
Wide Receiver: At weak side receiver, we have current Kierrie Johnson against Tony Simmons. At strong side receiver, we have current Akeem Foster against Ryan Thelwell. The weak side receiver is usually the deep threat; Johnson and Simmons have both had their moments where you watch them run down field and everybody is 10 yards behind them. Johnson cemented his role during the 2011 Grey Cup game when he hauled in a deep pass from Lulay for a touchdown, effectively sealing the deal for the Leos. Simmons wasn’t known for his ability to make something out of nothing, but he had wheels. Given the nickname “Touchdown,” Simmons blew by defenders covering him and no one could ever catch him. He also spent most of his time on the injury list, never really owning his role, leading to his eventual release. The strong side receiver is usually more of a possession guy, and who was better than Thelwell? His nickname was “Automatic” because every time he was thrown the ball, he caught it. Thelwell was a West Division All-Star in 2004 and 2005 with a 1,000-yard year in the latter. He did drop off in production afterwards, but was third on the team with 53 catches for 625 yards and four touchdowns. Thelwell also played a key part in the playoffs, in two games he had nine receptions for 83 yards. Foster has been a good target in the red zone, leading the team in touchdowns last year. This year, he’s had a significant drop off, splitting with Marco Iannuzzi. The receivers this year have done nothing that measures up to Thelwell’s production, and this could change in the future, but for now, it goes to 2006.
Slotback: Both units had Geroy Simon leading the charge. In 2006, he had almost 2,000 yards, and this year he has struggled. Both teams also had a young Canadian who was up and coming with Paris Jackson then, and Shawn Gore now. They also had an aging All-Star with Jason Clermont then and Arland Bruce III now. You could debate this matchup to death, and for that reason I’m giving it a PUSH.
Offensive Line: The key thing for the offensive line is keeping the quarterback healthy. Lulay starts every game; Dickenson was in and out of the lineup. Edge: 2012.
Defensive Line: The Lions have always had a defensive line that ranked high in sacks, so going person-to-person, they are equal. Keron Williams and Brent Johnson are great pass rushers, Tyrone Williams and Khalif Mitchell are relentless nose tackles, Khreem Smith and Chris Wilson set the edge and contribute, but Aaron Hunt gets the hands down decision over Eric Taylor in every way. Edge: 2006.
Linebacker: The linebacker depth in 2006 was ridiculous. Barrin Simpson, JoJuan Armour, Javier Glatt, Carl Kidd, and Otis Floyd split time between three linebacker spots. Each one of them contributed, not one of them complained. The linebacker talent in 2012 is just as ridiculous. The tandems of Adam Bighill, Solomon Elimimian, Anton McKenzie, and Anthony Reddick are the best in the league when it comes to run defense. Edge: 2012.
Secondary: The secondary is the division of the team that has changed the least, with Dante Marsh, Korey Banks, and Ryan Phillips all returning from that 2006 squad, with Mark Washington and Barron Miles retiring. The Lions brought in Byron Parker and Lin-J Shell from Toronto this off season, which gives the Lions a scary secondary. After Miles, the team never found another answer at the safety position and has been exploited repeatedly, even to this day. The present secondary also doesn’t make as many big plays as its former self did. It’s very close, but edge: 2006.
Special Teams: Kicker Paul McCallum single-handedly won us the Cup in 2006, and last year he set records for his accuracy kicking field goals. He has struggled a bit this year, but he’s still regarded as one of the best kickers in the league. Ian Smart was our returner in 2006. He showed flashes of big play ability, but nowhere near what Tim Brown has shown. Brown just seems to have a natural ability to get in the open space and down field. Edge: 2012.
2006: 3 2012: 4
The 2012 team just barely makes it out on top when compared (on paper) to the 2006 Grey Cup squad. They definitely have a chance to make it a second Grey Cup in a row, and win the 100 Grey Cup in Toronto in November.