In needs no reminding how much the offensive line struggled with consistency in 2019. Realizing full well it wasn’t good enough, members of the unit then spent a chunk of their time holding each other accountable this offseason — in return for a new O-Line identity.
As challenging as the season delay is due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several Lions’ offensive lineman spent the first half of their offseason training together in the weight room before adjusting to work individually and virtually.
After last season, Sukh Chungh, the hometown kid from Poco, rounded up his O-Line teammates Joel Figueroa, Peter Godber, Hunter Stewart, Phillip Norman and wide receiver Lamar Durant to start their offseason the right way — by keeping each other accountable.
“It was nice to work in a group environment and be competitive in the weight room with each other,” Chungh said.
“I get to stay here in the offseason so I reached out to guys to stay around and build that camaraderie that we need to have on the O-Line.”
“I was having tons of fun and then it’s changed quite a bit because not only could we not in groups, we don’t have access to a really good facility like the Lions for weightlifting,” added Chungh on how the pandemic has impacted offseason training.
To boil down last season leading up to the delay of training camp, the Lions started their 2019 campaign with a 1-10 record and gave up the most sacks in the league. The struggles led to a coaching change that brought the return of long-time Lions’ guard Kelly Bates to rescue the O-Line situation. Despite missing the playoffs, Bates’ arrival led to a four-game winning streak with much better protection from the offensive line.
Although it wasn’t a season to remember it gave the O-Line unit many reasons to stay motivated and keep their goals realistic.
Even though they learned from those mistakes, they’re not going to let the past define the identity of the O-Line.
“Obviously not the results we wanted individually. So that’s a chip on my shoulder and keeps me motivated because I want to go out there in 2020 and put my best tape out there,” Chungh added.
When Bates stepped in last September aiming to improve the O-Line, the first thing that stuck out to him was the high level of professionalism among the unit upfront.
“They wanted to do well and they just were struggling. They were open and very coachable,” explained Bates.
“When you bring those factors into it: pride, being extremely coachable, wanting to win and doing everything they could, it creates a situation that allowed us to improve a few different things and allowed them to see it on film,” Bates added.
“Once you see things on film, you start to believe and it creates that confidence.”
The team was supposed to take the field on May 17 for the start of 2020 training camp. As of right now, the O-Line is doing their part to keep themselves in check — with the help from virtual meetings.
Despite not knowing exactly when they’ll be able to shake off their rust, the O-Line and coaching staff have touched base regularly through Zoom meetings to discuss football and to look out for one another.
“It’s tough. It’s really just about being human, reaching out to them and letting them know that you’re here for them. There’s not much that we can do outside of taking care of ourselves,” Bates said.
“I think as a coaching staff, we’re working on our fluidity to be prepared. We all understand that it’s very fluid and very malleable that we have to be able to adapt.”
With training camp being on hold, it also means the fans won’t get to meet some new faces until further notice.
The team is excited to have Ryker Mathews in the lineup. The former Hamilton Tiger-Cats All-Star tackle will be playing in orange and black after signing a two-year deal on the opening day of free agency.
While not being able to formally introduce Mathews to the team, Chungh has been chatting with him virtually.
“We’ve had some video calls with Ryker and just chatted football, chatted life. It was nice to catch up and the Zoom calls have been fun, entertaining. But sometimes there’s also some serious business like football talks,” said Chungh on creating chemistry with newly-recruited Mathews.
The same goes for Bates who’s fortunate to have the addition of Mathews’s veteran leadership.
The O-Line coach highly praises his new 320 pound tackle: “My conversations with him have been really good. He seems like a very smart, very coachable man. He’s eager and he wants to get going.”
“When you watch what he is on film from his previous years in Hamilton, I feel very fortunate to have him,” Bates added.
During the 2020 draft, the team also selected Matt Guevremont to strengthen the depth chart on the O-Line. During his most recent gig as head coach at SFU, Bates made an attempt to recruit the Ontario native to Burnaby Mountain. Now seeing another young player like Guevremont become a part of the club has Bates very excited to soon be back on the field and watch his players grow.