VANCOUVER — It's been a solid start to the season for rookie B.C. Lions linebacker Jordan Williams.
Just four games into the campaign, the 26-year-old has already registered 28 defensive tackles, an interception and a sack, and his performance in B.C.'s 24-12 win over the Ottawa Redbacks on Aug. 28 earned Williams a CFL top performer of the week nod.
Now, after a bye week, Williams is looking forward to a rematch against the Redblacks in Vancouver on Saturday.
“Coming back, the guys were very antsy and high energy in practice, so they’ve recovered mentally and physically,” he said. “It was great to get that week off, so let’s go and get this win at B.C. Place.”
Defence has been a strength for the Lions (2-2) through the early part of the 2021 season. Its seven interceptions are tops in the league and it has held opponents to just one touchdown over the last three games.
Williams leads the team in tackles and picked up his first CFL interception against Ottawa.
The six-foot, 232-pounder out of East Carolina was originally slated to join the league in 2019 as an import. But because his mother was born in Canada, he chose instead to sit out a year while pursuing his Canadian citizenship. He was then selected first overall by the Lions in the 2020 CFL Draft.
Since his arrival, Williams has impressed head coach Rick Campbell with both his athleticism and consistency.
“He shows up every day to work,” Campbell said. “He practices well every day and he’s played well every day so far. That’s a great trait to have and that’s what good players do.”
In the Redblacks (1-3), Campbell’s squad will face a team that’s averaging a league-worst 255.8 yards per game. Ottawa is riding a three-game losing streak and will be trying out a new starting quarterback, Dominique Davis.
Last week, the Montreal Alouettes torched the Redblacks 51-29 and Davis stepped in for struggling Matt Nichols in the second quarter. The 32-year-old East Carolina product threw for 267 yards and two touchdowns and added a rushing touchdown in the blowout loss.
“He’s certainly got experience,” said Ottawa coach Paul LaPolice of his new starting pivot. “Certainly, he’s got the ability to put the ball all over the field. He’s an intelligent guy and can create a little bit with his legs.”
With the Redblacks sitting last in the CFL’s East Division, LaPolice feels the urgency to end his team’s losing slide.
“We can’t worry that we lost to this team previously,” he said. “We have two points to get this week. We’ve got to do everything in our power to put us in position to win this week.”
While the Lions are averaging a respectable 342 yards per game, Campbell is working to develop B.C.’s running game.
“It just helps everything out,” he said. “Keeps the defence off balance, helps with pass protection and all those things when you can really mix it up and defences know they have to commit to stopping the run. It’s something we want to continue to build on, and we think we can get better at.”
After finishing out their game in Ottawa in a downpour two weeks ago, the Lions are eager to return to B.C. Place for just their second home game of the abbreviated 14-game season.
“Our guys, that's part of them looking forward to playing," Campbell said. "It’s not only that we've had a week off but that we get to play at home again. They're excited to show up well at home on Saturday.”
OTTAWA REDBLACKS (1-3) AT B.C. LIONS (2-2)Saturday, B.C. Place
MISSING RHYMES — B.C. wide receiver Dominique Rhymes has been ruled out for Saturday’s clash after injuring his foot in Week 4. Campbell said Thursday that offensive lineman Joel Figueroa might be able to return to the lineup after suffering a calf injury in Week 3.
MORE COWBELL — Cowbells will be distributed to fans as part of a planned halftime tribute to 2,000 first responders and front-line workers who are set to be in attendance. Masks will be mandatory inside B.C. Place for staff and all spectators aged 12 and over.
LOOKING AHEAD —The Lions head to Montreal for a date with the Alouettes in Week 7, then return to B.C. Place for three home games. The Redblacks have a bye week before hosting Hamilton on Sept. 22.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 10, 2021.
Carol Schram, The Canadian Press