CFL Pass

Ed Willes: Hervey fulfils pledge to bolster pass rush, acquires Lemon

HAMILTON — In a dizzying 12-month stretch, Shawn Lemon has gone from the Toronto Argos to the B.C. Lions, back to Toronto and, on Monday, back to the Lions again.

Another player might be dazed by all this. They’d certainly be confused. But, by now, Lemon is used to the drill.

In nine CFL seasons, he’s changed teams eight times and while others might draw their own conclusions about his job history, the veteran rush end views it as a compliment.

“I’m just happy to be wanted,” Lemon said, shortly after arriving at the Lions’ practice at McMaster University in Hamilton. “I’m never going to go without work because of my resume.”

That’s because, like a left-handed reliever or a three-point shooter, Lemon has a skill that will always be in demand. He can rush the passer and, right now, the Lions need a pass rusher the way plants need oxygen.



B.C. Lions vs. Winnipeg Blue Bombers

5:30 p.m., Investors Group Field, TV: TSN; Radio: TSN 1040 AM

Following his team’s brutal 35-34 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Saturday night, Lions GM Ed Hervey re-acquired Lemon from the Argos for defensive tackle Davon Coleman and a conditional eighth-round draft pick in 2020. Coleman was an all-CFL selection last season who struggled mightily this season and therein lies a story.

But, in Lemon, the Lions believe they’ve acquired a disruptive edge rusher and given the pitiful state of their pass rush this season, that became a priority for Hervey.

“We’re addressing an area that’s been a concern for us all season,” Hervey said. “We’re getting a proven pass rusher who’s familiar with the league and familiar with our locker-room.

“A lot of guys know him and respect him. We hope it will boost the confidence of the defence and the rest of the team that we’re doing what we can to win the games in front of us.”

The Lions have recorded just seven sacks as a team in eight games this season, which goes a long way in explaining their 1-7 record. Against the Ticats, they didn’t record a sack against Dane Evans, who brought his team back from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter.

Last season, Lemon recorded 10 sacks in 13 games with the Leos and teamed with Odell Willis to form a productive pass rush from the outside. Willis finished with 11 sacks in 2018 and the Lions tied for the CFL lead with 45 sacks as a team.

This season, Willis has recorded just two sacks in DeVone Claybrooks’ defence and the thought is Lemon, who signed with the Argos as a free agent in the off-season, will keep the opponents from sliding protection toward Willis.

“In some schemes the player excels,” said Willis, who has 99 sacks in 181 CFL career games. “In some he doesn’t. But I’ve played in a lot of schemes and I’ve had success. You have to adapt.”

“You saw what we did last season,” Lemon said. “No one wanted to block us. I’m excited. I know guys are going to have their hands full on the edges.”

Coleman, as it happens, was part of Lemon’s and Willis’s success last season and his play rates as one of the great mysteries of this lost Lions’ season. In 2018, Coleman had eight sacks, 57 tackles and two interceptions and was named a CFL All-Star.

This year, however, he was a non-factor in the defence installed by Claybrooks and veteran defensive coordinator Rich Stubler.

“He was a square peg in a round hole,” Claybrooks said of Coleman. “It comes down to the fit. We decided we needed more pressure from the edge.”

“Davon is a very good player,” said Hervey. “We’ve had many conversations. I just don’t think the system fit for him and we wanted to put him in a position where he could be successful.”

This isn’t Lemon’s first go-round with Claybrooks and Stubler. In 2014, he recorded 13 sacks in Calgary as the Stampeders won a Grey Cup with Stubler as the defensive coordinator and Claybrooks as the defensive line coach.

Lemon will also join a rotation on the defensive front which includes some combination of Willis, veteran David Menard, second-year men Junior Luke and Claudell Louis and newcomers Charles Wright, Korey Toomer and Mackendy Cheridor. Against Hamilton the Lions played predominantly with a three-man defensive front but Claybrooks said he isn’t committed to that philosophy.

“We’ve got to get a pass rush no matter how we do it,” he said.

EXTRA POINTS: Elsewhere with the Lions on Monday, quarterback Mike Reilly put in a full practice after spraining his right ankle in the late stages of the loss to the Ticats. He’s expected to start Thursday’s game against the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg.

“He’s a soldier,” said Claybrooks. “I saw him (on Sunday) and he could barely get out of bed. Three hours later he said, ‘I’m ready coach.’ He must have cheetah blood in him.”