March 17, 2011
The Edmonton Eskimos' 2011 linebacking corps will look very different than the 2010 edition, thanks to the retirement of Canadian Javy Glatt and the team's decision to release import Maurice Lloyd (seen above left trying to bring down Lions' quarterback Casey Printers with teammate Andre Coleman in a July 4 game last year); they've also added former NFL linebacker Quinton Culberson, who last played with the St. Louis Rams and Carolina Panthers in 2009. Edmonton isn't going to be the only team with an overhauled group of linebackers, though; several other teams are also re-evaluating their linebackers, including Hamilton (where the Tiger-Cats brought in Renauld Williams, axing Otis Floyd in the process. The latest team that could do so, though, is one many might not have expected; the B.C. Lions.
On the surface, B.C. seems to be in pretty good shape at linebacker. The Lions tend to play a 4-2-6 alignment (defensive linemen-linebackers-defensive backs), which would be a standard nickel defence (4-2-5) in the NFL. This sometimes shows up as a 4-3-5 in the depth charts, but the nickel position (generally manned by Korey Banks) is essentially a defensive back slot, not a linebacker slot. Thus, the Lions really only have two spots to fill at linebacker, the MAC (or middle) and WIL (or weak-side). They're also pretty loaded at those spots; Solomon Elimimian did a great job in the middle last year, earning the league's rookie of the year award in the process (and he should have been selected as a divisional all-star too in my mind), while Anton McKenzie was quite solid at the weak-side slot when healthy. For depth, they currently have import Adam Leonard, who's impressed in spot duty and on special teams, as well as top Canadian prospects James Yurichuk and Joash Gesse. That doesn't exactly seem like a group that's desperately in need of reinforcement; as Lowell Ullrich writes, "Given the lack of depth on the defensive line, let alone a position coach, it is very fair to wonder if the Lions will impose more elements of a 3-4 defence in certain situations next year." That would appear to suggest the team's looking more for ways to get their current players on the field than new talent to bring in.
Still, the Lions have at least been in contact with Lloyd, and that's certainly notable, as there haven't been a lot of teams doing that. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have already said outright that they don't want Lloyd, and no one else has really made much noise about him. According to Mike Beamish of The Vancouver Sun, the Lions' interest in Lloyd (and UCLA linebacker Reggie Carter) may be partly as an eventual replacement for Elimimian, who could leave for the NFL after the 2011 season. That makes sense; head coach/general manager Wally Buono has been known for thinking long-term, and that kind of roster planning is an important part of success in the CFL.
However, it's far from a guarantee that Lloyd will end up with the Lions; he'll probably want a significant chunk of change (which might force the Lions to cut McKenzie, something they don't seem very high on doing). It also isn't a sure thing that he'd succeed if he did wind up in B.C., as he likely wouldn't be replacing Elimimian at middle linebacker right away, so how he'd fit in at the weak-side slot (if the Lions stick with the 4-2-6) is an open question. Lloyd's 28, so he should still have plenty of good years left, but Edmonton's decision to move on without him raises some questions about both his play and how he'd fit in with a new locker room. In the end, any move on Lloyd by the Lions is likely to depend on finances, other available players and Elimimian's intentions; there's also the chance that another team could swoop in and land him first. It's going to be an interesting situation to watch, but it's a tough one to predict at this point with so many factors still up in the air.