Over the past two seasons, the B.C. Lions have had good teams that haven't won a playoff game. And because of that those good teams are not remembered as exceptional, just non-producing playoff teams.
This is a high pressure year in Lions football because of that fact. You can justify losing once, especially coming off a Grey Cup winning year, but losing twice transitions your team into re-evaluation and, sometimes, over-evaluation. Losing three times tends to lead to a more dramatic change.
But can you build a team in May and June for success in October and November? Part of me thinks yes, if you have exceptional depth and a quarterback who performs at his best when the pressure is highest - playoff football. Also, a nice balance of veterans and youth helps on your roster. Veteran guys know and have the ability to rise to a challenge, a playoff game, because they know how to raise urgency both individually and collectively.
My argument that you can't develop a playoff capable team early relates to how teams change as the season progresses.
Injuries are the single biggest factor. If you lose a lot of players over a season it is difficult to find new performers to play as well as their predecessors. Or if you lose key players, a quarterback, a top defensive back, your best receiver, that individual may not be able to be replaced without a drop-off in production. When it comes to training camp and the regular season, all you can do is demand and hope for progressive and consistent improvement so come playoff time, you are at your best and competing against yourself.
Last year BC was good on defence but needed to improve on offence. They finished with the third-ranked rushing offence, averaging 107 yards per game, but only seventh in passing with 244 yards per game.
On the other side of the ball there was a clear contradiction. They allowed the fewest passing yards but were at the league bottom in red zone defence. It was tough to move the ball against the Lions between the 20s, yet easier from the 20-yard line in. The vast majority of the time the opposite is true: the closer to the goal line, the tougher to advance because the defence has less space to defend. An unusual contradiction.
Still, when you study last season and notice that BC was seventh in kickoff returns and eighth in punt returns, you see just what may be the priority for improvement may not be anything with or without the ball. Where you start drives and the length of field you have to overcome determines success in a season as much as any other aspect of football.
As always, the Lions strength will be personnel change at just the right time. More youth on the offensive line and more experience at quarterback will prove beneficial at key moments of the season.
Travis Lulay will be ready to go but that is not the concern. It is whether he will be ready for 18 games as his shoulder will be tested at some point in the season. In what may turn out to be the smartest move in the draft, acquiring Kevin Glenn as a veteran alternative is a nice luxury that only half the league has.
The Lions will win their fair share of games, maybe even more than what is fair. The question will be whether they can break the “one and done” streak in the playoffs. You can't really prepare for it until the week of. And that week is months away.