BC Lions put faith in Vernon Adams as team moves on from record-setting Nathan Rourke

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KAMLOOPS, B.C. — The B.C. Lions have turned to Vernon Adams Jr. to fill a Nathan Rourke-sized hole as they head in to the 2023 CFL season.

Rourke lit up the Lions’ offence last year, winning the Most Outstanding Canadian Award and setting other records along the way.

But he opted to head to the NFL after the season and join the Jacksonville Jaguars, leaving the Lions looking to fill his shoes.

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The team traded for quarterback Adams last season after Rourke was injured, sending a first-round pick to the Montreal Alouettes in exchange.

"Last year is last year. I'm worried about this year," Adams said about taking the reins from Rourke.

Adams said he's worked hard to bond with his wide receivers, hosting some of them at his home in Pasadena, Calif., and running practice sessions with them before the pre-season.

"I show them that I care about them, I love them, on and off the field. They make me look good," he said. "That's the least I can do for them and I look at it as an investment and hopefully we get that back at the end of the year."

Adams is a 2019 CFL All-Star, but Rourke's achievements loom large.

Rourke finished the season with 25 touchdown passes and was sixth overall in the league with 3,349 passing yards despite being injured on Aug. 19.

He broke former quarterback Gerry Dattilo's 41-year-old single-game passing record for Canadian quarterbacks and then broke his own record in back-to-back weeks with 477 passing yards and then 488 yards in wins over the Toronto Argonauts and Calgary Stampeders.

"I think that being on an NFL team and getting NFL film, whether it's pre-season or regular season is really important to be able to solidify yourself as an NFL starter," Rourke said previously about leaving the Lions. "I don't think it's happening if you're playing another year in the CFL. I just don't."

Adams, meanwhile, had 1,504 passing yards with eight touchdowns and one interception in eight games with the Lions last season.

During his all-star season with Montreal, Adams recorded 3,942 passing yards and threw 24 touchdowns while rushing for 394 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Head coach and co-general manager Rick Campbell said he's been impressed by the way Adams has worked to integrate himself in to the team and its offence.

"It was a tall task for him last year. He had to come in, learn the playbook and kind of assimilate himself in to this team which is not easy to do in the middle of the season," Campbell said.

He also highlighted the differences between Rourke and Adams, noting the current quarterback's willingness to run the ball if needed.

"He's an all-around quarterback. He can make all the throws and the bonus is he can use his feet. So if we get in to trouble or things go the wrong way he can improvise and make plays, and scramble or buy time or run for a first down," Campbell said.

Campbell also expressed his confidence in the offence continuing its performances from last year due to both Adams getting a full pre-season as well as the majority of the main wide-receiver core returning.

"There's a comfort level there where they worked together last year and now they knew what the situation was going to be the whole off-season so now they can put it in to action here," he said.

Besides Rourke, the offence has seen another change with Lion stalwart Bryan Burnham deciding to retire after eight seasons.

He was a four-time CFL all-star with 476 receptions and 7,212 receiving yards with the Lions. Both marks rank fourth in franchise history.

Burnham was the Lions' finalist for the league's outstanding player award in 2019, when he set career highs with 1,492 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.

"Nothing's changed," said wide receivers coach Jason Tucker about the loss of Burnham. "It's the same group that was here last year just minus Bryan Burnham. We brought in a lot of good guys that can step in."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 16, 2023.

Nick Wells, The Canadian Press