VANCOUVER – The BC Lions are bucking the CFL trend of resting key players for precautionary reasons.
While many squads chose to sit players in the final week of the regular season, Lions coach Mike Benevides doesn’t believe in that philosophy.
“In my experience you always have to play your best people,” Benevides said after the Lions’ walkthrough Friday. “Everyone that’s been approved to play will play. It’s not about rest.”
The Lions, who locked up a first-round bye in the playoffs by clinching first in the West Division, play their regular-season finale on Saturday night against a visiting Saskatchewan Roughriders squad that will likely sit Darian Durant and Weston Dressler, among others.
As for the Lions, Arland Bruce won’t play because he hasn’t been medically cleared from a concussion suffered four weeks ago, while Marco Iannuzzi will return after a two week hiatus.
Quarterback Travis Lulay remains the biggest question mark. The quarterback hurt his shoulder in the same game Iannuzzi suffered his concussion – against the Hamilton Tiger Cats, Oct. 12.
“It’s feeling a lot better,” Lulay said Friday. “(Thursday) was the best day of throwing I’ve had since it happened.
“At this point, I don’t stand to set myself back with a hit. If it were to get hurt, it could have happened on a perfectly healthy shoulder anyway. That’s encouraging and that’s part of the reason I’m optimistic about going.”
The decision on whether Lulay will play will be made during Saturday’s pre-game warm-up, according to Benevides. But it looks promising. The coach believes in the importance of playing in real-game situations.
“It’s critical through my experience that players play, get the speed of the game, feel real good about where they’re at,” he said. “You really have to play at speed. You can’t simulate that in practice.”
If Lulay is deemed not ready by the medical and coaching staff, backup QB Mike Reilly is prepared to fill in.
“As it stands right now, with Travis’s health still not really being certain, I just expect to play the whole game,” said Reilly.
Another key storyline is the battle between BC’s Andrew Harris and Saskatchewan’s Kory Sheets for top spot on the yards from scrimmage table. Sheets is only seven yards back of Harris’s league-leading 1,767 yards.
Although the playoff spots have been locked up, post-season positioning remains to be determined.
An Edmonton Eskimos victory over Calgary on Friday, coupled with a Riders loss on Saturday, would mean Saskatchwan would cross over to face the Toronto Argonauts in the Eastern final.
For the Lions, the game is a chance is to avenge a 27-21 loss to Saskatchewan on Sept. 29.
BC’s biggest crowd of the season will be on hand to see it. A Friday press release said the team is on pace to top 35,000 tickets sold.
The previous season high came Aug. 19 when the Lions hosted 34,343 fans versus Saskatchewan and came away with a 24-5 win.