The BC Lions defense is generous with yards, but stingy with points

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They allow more net yards than any other team but one, but no team can boast having allowed fewer touchdowns than the BC Lions defense.

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When the ax fell on DeVone Claybrooks after the 2019 season, it also fell on all of his assistant coaches.

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Every assistant Claybrooks hired when he was head coach of the BC Lions has been swept out the door with the first-year head coach following a 5-13 season. .

All but one: Ryan Phillips.

Defensive-backs coach (and offensive line coach Kelly Bates, who took over from Bryan Chiu mid-season) has been singled out in a rare example of a coaching regime crossover. When Rick Campbell was recruited as a head coach, he placed a strong emphasis on the value of having a voice that has been part of the organization for over 14 years.

“He’s extremely sharp,” Campbell said of Phillips.

“He’s a growing coach and I think he has the ability to be a coordinator. I like guys who have worked in an organization and I understand what it’s like to be a BC Lion because I’m new here.

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“I have respect for this fact. It certainly wasn’t the deciding factor, but I think it’s a huge bonus to have guys who have been here and who have been successful here, ”he said, including Bates in the conversation. .

Another piece of the equation he had left was Phillips’ close relationship with his players, which, ironically, was one of the reasons Ed Hervey cited for parting ways with Claybrooks.

“If I owe them dinner, so be it.” I’m okay with that, ”he said, laughing at the suggestion that veterans like TJ Lee and Garry Peters kicked down club president Rick LeLacheur’s door to fight for their guy.

BC Lions assistant coach Ryan Phillips is keeping things cool at training camp in Kamloops in the summer of 2019.
BC Lions assistant coach Ryan Phillips is keeping things cool at training camp in Kamloops in the summer of 2019. Photo by Alexandra Ruiz

But whatever Phillips does, no matter how he instills confidence, camaraderie, and defense skills, it works.

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Heading into Friday night’s rematch (7:30 p.m. TSN, AM30) against the Saskatchewan Roughriders (4-2), the Lions (4-2) have established themselves as one of the best defensive units in the league. They drop six touchdowns in the CFL – one best in the league against a TD and four major assists, the second short (the sixth major was an interception return in Week 1) – and are averaging the second least offensive points. against (16.3).

The Ball Hawkers Lions have the top 10 steals in the league and are the only team with a choice in every game this season.

“Sneaky. We’re sneaky about that,” said linebacker Marcus Sayles. “I feel like a lot of the games we play, we kind of go under the radar.… We’re never chosen to win. those games, but when we find ourselves in those situations… teams are like, ‘Oh, shoot. They’re actually better than we thought. We earn our respect.

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Lee spoke of the team’s ability to “bend but not break” after holding the league’s top-ranked team, the Montreal Alouettes, out of the end zone on 13 shots in their victory. 27-18 last week. Overall, British Columbia give up the most scrum plays per game (61.2, although offense has some influence on that number), second less two-and-outs and give up 364, 7 net yards per game – second most in the league. But they don’t give up big passing plays easily or often, harassing opposing quarterbacks in the league’s second-worst efficiency rating and leading the standings next to Winnipeg in forced turnovers.

“I never want to fold. I hate that term, ”Phillips said. “But at the end of the day what it shows is that we have enough character, enough bite to know that when we’re back to the wall, we can rise to the challenge.”

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There are six first-year players on the defensive end of BC, but most of them haven’t played like that. KiAnte Hardin has a pair of interceptions, while linebacker Jordan Williams and DB Jalon Edwards-Cooper have one. Peters has been a cover animal and Lee an opportunist, snatching two picks himself this season. Bo Lokombo, No. 2 overall in defensive games, has three interceptions this year.

“I knew we had potential,” Phillips said. “It really comes down to when you have a good mix of veteran guys and rookie guys, it’s’ how good can our veteran guys lead, and how ready are our rookie guys to listen and to follow ?’ What I think has us separated is the fact that our young guys are ready to be sponges, to learn from the veterans, to learn from people like me.

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NEXT GAME

Friday

Saskatchewan Roughriders vs BC Lions

7:30 p.m., BC Place Stadium. Television: TSN. Radio: AM 730


Coming out of training camp, Campbell was comfortable with the level at which his defense was starting. He also had Phillips audition for the defensive appellant role, although Phillips didn’t realize it at the time. Ahead of the season opener against the Riders, Campbell invited Phillips into his office to see if he felt comfortable being the one calling the defense.

“I felt like I was prepared for it,” said Phillips, grateful to former defensive coordinator Rich Stubler and Claybrooks for giving him the advice and tools to get there.

“But Rick takes it to another level in that he lets you learn by trial and error, he lets you learn by making mistakes. He doesn’t sit around and micromanage you all the time, ”Phillips said. “Now don’t get me wrong, he wants it under a structure, he wants things to be disciplined, but he’s going to feel the flow of the game and let you make your calls.

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“He didn’t have to, as long as he gave me this opportunity, and I’m happy it has paid off so far. That he trusted me to do it says a lot as a coach and as a guy who believes in his assistants. You don’t get this every day.

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