After an astonishing 2013 season that saw 18 different QBs make starts this season, 19 if you count Buck Pierce twice (Winnipeg and BC), there's still plenty of uncertainty at that position heading into the playoffs.
Let's start out west and work our way across the country, from left to right with the teams in the Semi-Finals...
The BC Lions embark on what they hope is a three-game road trip with a quarterbacking situation that has been patch worked together as best it could be since Travis Lulay went down with a partially dislocated right shoulder on September 15. Yes, that's his throwing shoulder!
Thomas DeMarco, the strong armed second-year quarterback from Old Dominion did himself proud when he went 3-3 in replace of Lulay. He gained valuable experience this season and a highlight was finding success at Mosaic Stadium in his first career start, leading his team to a game-winning drive with under a minute to go. His poise, arm strength and positive experience on that day could prove to be extremely important if the Lions can play their way back to Saskatechewan on November 24.
Making the stable of quarterbacks for the Lions even more stable is the unstable and electrifying Buck Pierce...
Since coming to the Lions in a mid-season September trade, Pierce has been biding his time and digesting the Lions playbook. Taking the reins in relief of DeMarco versus Edmonton two weeks ago, Buck quickly reminded all CFL fans what makes him so special: his unabated approach to doing whatever it takes to win football games. A spectacular block, 50 yards down field, springing his running back Stefan Logan into the end zone and three TD strikes later, Pierce astonished us all with his brilliant and courageous play!
His play that day and the last week of the regular season against the Stampeders vaulted him into the No. 1 slot moving into post season play. I say this in spite of Lulay's triumphant return last week where we saw the Lions' franchise player complete 3 of 4 passes for 54 yards and rush for a touchdown on a perfectly executed read-option play.
I had a chance to speak to all three of these quarterbacks at length while covering that ball game and it's extremely enlightening just how different each one of these capable quarterbacks' stories really are heading into the playoffs.
DeMarco is hoping he's done enough to stick as a viable option for the Lions in the future. In my opinion, he has and then some. Given the chance during the playoffs, he must make better decisions in taking care of the football and be more apt to make things happen with his legs. If he does that, the quarterback nicknamed "Little Dunigan" will be just fine.
Plain and simple, Buck is grateful for this excellent opportunity. From where he started this year in Winnipeg, down about 15 pounds (so he could move quicker) to where he is now, back up to fighting weight (approximately 210) and with the green light from head coach Mike Benevides to cut it loose and go play, it's remarkable.
I believe they should ride Pierce as deep into the playoffs as he can go. He has the arm strength, foot speed and that special "it" factor that is infectious when he is rolling. As coach John Jenkins used to say to me all the time, “I got a pocket full of quarters Hoss, put another one in ride and let's roll.” The Lions should ride Pierce until that pocket is empty.
He gives this team a veteran presence and certainly has the skill set, by land or by air to inflict serious damage on Saskatchewan's defence. With the added run game emphasis and change in philosophy four weeks ago to revamp that dormant run game, Pierce's speed and ability to run presents far more problems for Saskatchewan. Andrew Harris, Logan and Pierce form a potentially deadly trio to account for.
As for Lulay, after what I witnessed the other night in BC Place, I believe he's not ready. It's one thing to make some throws during practice with no setbacks, and it's one thing to complete three passes and score a touchdown in a real game without a hand being laid on you, but it's a totally different ball game when asked to make all the throws on the field and take real football shots from an angry Rider Nation defence looking to punish an already wonky throwing shoulder any chance they get.
I can tell you his arm isn't anywhere near 100% and being the future of the Lions, I'd be surprised if he started, but could see him coming in off the bench at some point.
Understand that this goes against the philosophy I believe in, which I learned from the legendary quarterback and head coach Jackie Parker: if you are not healthy enough to dress and start then you aren't healthy enough to play. But all bets are off during the playoffs! I believe Jackie would agree...
The Lions are just looking to advance one week at a time. Finding a way, with all three of these very different quarterbacks and there unique individual plights to bring home the Grey Cup while celebrating their 60th year as a franchise. Question is will they risk the franchise player for the sake of the franchise?