The CFL is built on the passing game. Part of the appeal of our league is the amount of big plays fans get to see through the air. In order for these big plays to occur, you need to have elite receivers capable of making contested catches down the field.
BC Lions’ fans have had the pleasure of watching some of the top pass-catchers in the history of the game. Geroy Simon is the best of the best. His numbers in the CFL are unparalleled. ‘Swervin’ Mervin Fernandez is a legend. Darren Flutie, Jim Young, Jason Clermont, Manny Arceneaux – the list goes on. Lions’ fans have always had a bevy of notable names in the slot and out wide.
Today we will take a closer look at who will be catching passes for the Leos in 2020 and the man who will be coaching up the receivers this season.
Jason Tucker dazzled fans in Edmonton for seven seasons, earning two Grey Cup rings with the Eskimos. He entered the coaching profession with the Eskimos in 2009 and has since made stops with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the NFL’s Tennessee Titans and most recently, the Montreal Alouettes.
He takes over the reigns as the Lions’ receivers coach this season.
“I’m an open book and I’m here to help,” said Tucker from his home in Fort Worth, TX. “I’ve been blessed to part of this game for a long time. I’ve played in both leagues, in the NFL and the CFL, so I learned a lot as a player, and I’ve learned even more as a coach.
I just want to give everything I’ve learned back to somebody else. My playing days are done, so it’s no use to me anymore. I want to pass it on to someone else to help further their career.”
The Lions retooled their receiving core following a disappointing 2019 season. The club focused its efforts in free agency on adding to their American talent and depth. Ed Hervey and his staff also spent a lot of time searching for young American receivers who could challenge for spots on the roster.
“Me personally, I just want to get the chance to work with these guys,” said Tucker. “Everyone has something different that they bring to the table. I tell these guys, it’s not about what I want, it’s never going to be about what I want. I’m just going to enhance what they have already and try to strengthen their weaknesses. That’s all I want to do.”
One of the players Jason is most looking forward to working with is Bryan Burnham. The 30-year-old posted career highs across the board in 2019, hauling in 100 passes for 1,492 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I’ve always looked at Bryan and thought to myself that I would love to coach that guy,” says Tucker. “He’s special. He has a lot of great traits and he is a great player. I just want to work with him one time to say I had the chance to work with him. He does a lot of exciting things on the field.
He is one of the best – maybe the best – in the league right now. The way he can go up and get the ball, and the catches he makes. He has deceptive speed and can get behind the defence. Most of all, he just makes plays.”
Lemar Durant had a breakout campaign with the Lions last season. The 27-year-old established himself as one of the best Canadian receivers in the CFL, registering 57 receptions for 810 yards and five touchdowns. It’s clear the Coquitlam, BC product’s best days are ahead of him.
“I loved Lemar back when he was in college down at Simon Fraser,” explained Tucker. “We were watching film of some other guy and Lemar caught my eye. I kept asking, who is this guy? I had no idea who he was yet, but I knew even then that Lemar was going to be good.
He had a great year last year. He’s a strong guy. I think he is just now coming into his own and it’s just going to get better for him. He has got a lot to work with and has huge upside.”
One of the most intriguing additions to the Leos in 2020 is Dominique Ryhmes. Lack of quality American receivers was a significant problem for BC last season. The Lions hope have found the solution to that problem in Ryhmes. The 26-year-old Murray State alum had a career year with Ottawa in 2019, posting 65 receptions for 1,056 yards and five touchdowns.
“Dom is a great receiver,” Jason said excitedly. “He finally reached the 1,000-yard plateau last year. He’s smooth and can make every catch. He just needed to find his place and he did that last year in Ottawa. I think he is a great fit in our offence and will excel with us as well.”
Caleb Holley followed Ryhmes out west, signing with BC in free agency after spending last season with the RedBlacks. Poor quarterback play in Ottawa led to a slight dip in production for Holley, but he has strung together a solid career thus far in the CFL. Across 47 career games with the Roughriders and RedBlacks, Holley has caught 157 passes for 1,963 yards and seven touchdowns.
“I was really excited when we signed Caleb,” said his new coach. “I told people to go back and look at him when he was in Saskatchewan. It was Duron Carter, Naaman Roosevelt and Caleb. Those were the three receivers that they threw to all the time. Caleb has had some production in this league.
Things didn’t work out the way he wanted them to in Ottawa last season, but he has had some productive seasons. He’s a guy that has experience in this league, he makes plays. That’s a good pickup for us. He’s a good veteran guy that we can lean on if we need to.”
Shaq Johnson has developed a reputation as one of the fastest players in the CFL. He is dynamic and difficult for defences to contain. The 27-year-old caught 39 passes for a career-high 587 yards and two scores in 2019.
A smile crept over Jason’s face when discussing Johnson and he simply said, “Shaq is fast.”
“With him, I think it’s more about being confident in who he is as a player. He had that huge game in Ottawa last year and you could see his confidence was high. I just want to keep his confidence up so he can stay at a high level. If we can do that, he will have a great year and do great things for the Lions. He should be a 1,000-yard receiver in this league.”
Another player that sparks a twinkle in Jason Tucker’s eye is Jevon Cottoy. The 23-year-old possesses great size and had a very impressive debut season with BC in 2019. Cottoy recorded 38 receptions for 386 yards and one touchdown en route to earning the Lions’ nomination for CFL Most Outstanding Rookie.
“Watching Cottoy last season, he improved each and every week,” said Tucker. “This season, he needs to play like he is 6’5 and 230 pounds every time he hits the field. Nobody should be able to stop that kid.
He reminds me of a bigger Marc Boerigter from back in the day. Boerigter was huge and could do a lot of things. Jevon might not be quite as fast as Marc was, but he’s big and physical.
We all know his story, being a junior player and he found his way onto the Lions. A lot of people have told me that he is a smart player, he learns fast, he is very respectful and very coachable. I think Jevon has huge upside and I can’t wait to work with him.”
In a normal year, we would be nearing the end of training camp right now. First impressions can make a world of difference in this league, often times deciding on whether a player stays or goes. Jason Tucker had some advice for all the receivers hoping to make a name for themselves this season in Orange & Black.
“It’s up to them to bring their game with them when we get started here. Especially now since we likely won’t have a typical training camp. They have got to show their best foot from day one.
Our camp is so fast. Young American guys sometimes don’t understand that when they come up here. We don’t have five weeks of training camp like the NFL does. Get into it fast and show what you have from day one. As a group, I’m excited to get to know all of them and teach them all the things I’ve learned in my career.”