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Bryan Burnham says BC Lions season was a 'failure'

VANCOUVER — B.C. Lions wide receiver Bryan Burnham knows expectations were sky high for his team this season.

The club had signed marquee quarterback Mike Reilly to a four-year, $2.9-million deal in free agency and bolstered the roster with a number of other CFL veterans, including offensive lineman Sukh Chungh and wide receiver Lemar Durant.

Everyone inside the locker room believed the squad would make a Grey Cup run, Burnham said. But the Leos didn't even make the playoffs, instead settling for an ugly 5-13 record.

"First and foremost it was a failure of a season," Burnham said Monday as he and his teammates cleaned out their lockers. "We only won five games. The expectations were much larger. I know what kind of team we have and what we could have done this year but could of, would of, should have."

The results have some questioning whether rookie head coach DeVone Claybrooks will return for a sophomore campaign.

Lions general manager Ed Hervey said Monday he will soon have meetings with owner David Braley and president Rick LeLacheur where everyone in the franchise will be evaluated — including Hervey himself.

The GM expects fans to be made aware of any significant changes in the coming days.

Claybrooks, however, said he's not concerned about his future.

"I just do my job and until someone tells me I don't have one, I'll keep doing it," he said, adding that he's always communicated with Hervey and the pair have "been in lockstep every step of the way."

"I'm not happy with the results obviously because it's a results-based business," Claybrooks said. "But I'm happy with the foundation that we've laid, to know that we trust and feel and believe that we're going to get the results."

B.C.'s on-field woes began early this season, with the team falling to a dismal 1-10 record through the end of August. The Lions struggled mightily against West Division opponents and did not post a single win over another western team all season.

"Our inability to finish at times was most frustrating, especially early on," Hervey said. "And then it just kind of grew into a reputation."

The offensive line struggled to protect Reilly, who was sacked a league-high 43 times through the first 10 games of the year. In early September, the Lions replaced offensive-line coach Brian Chiu with Kelly Bates, and went on a four-game win streak soon after.

Reilly escaped serious injury until mid-October when he broke his wrist early in B.C.'s 19-6 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos.

"It was a tough way to end it because we had gone on a stretch where we felt like we were playing some pretty good football," said the quarterback, who returned to B.C. — where he started his CFL career — after playing six seasons in Edmonton.

Overall, the season was disappointing and frustrating, Reilly said.

"Every team expects to be a championship team when you're 0-0, but that's why the games are played on the field, not on paper," he said. "You've got to find a way to improve and be better than your opponent on game day. And we only did that five times this year and that's obviously not good enough."

Adversity isn't new to Reilly, however. He was part of an Eskimos team that finished the 2013 campaign 4-14, only to go and win the Grey Cup two years later.

"The (players) that were there (in 2013) were a big part of helping us win a championship because they'd gone through the struggles but it had made them better football players and made us a better team," he said. "Certainly that's our goal, but there's a lot of work to be done. There's no doubt."

Changes and improvements need to be made over the course of the off season, Reilly added.

"You know your team's going to be different the next year, no matter what," he said. "But any time you win five games in a season, you have to figure out a way to get better and bring a few pieces in. Because if you just go with the same exact thing, you're not going to have different results. We all know that."

Part of the issue throughout this season was having so many new faces on the team, Burnham said.

"When you look at it, no matter how good all those names are, the guys have never played together before. I walked into the first team meeting at training camp and I almost felt like I was new. There was so many faces I had never seen before," he said. "It takes time to build that continuity and build that trust. It took a little bit longer than we wanted."

Despite the results, Burnham put up career highs in receptions (100), yards (1,492) and touchdowns (11). And he believes the Lions have what it takes to be better in the future.

"We've built a foundation that we are going to be able to win football games, not just next year but years after as well," he said.

Hervey, too, is optimistic about the Lions' future.

The club has a great quarterback, a top-notch wide receiver and good, young Canadian players, the GM said.

"Now we have something we didn't have going into last year. Now we have continuity," he said. "They now have shared something together. They have shared the ups and downs and adversity of a season that was disappointing."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2019.