The B.C. Lions are preparing for the possibility that quarterback Travis Lulay won't play in a key game against Saskatchewan because of a shoulder injury, but a decision on who would take the snaps in Lulay's place is still up in the air.
B.C. coach Mike Benevides said Monday the club will prepare offensive packages for backup signal-caller Thomas DeMarco and nominal No. 3 Buck Pierce.
"I'm going to get both of those guys, both Buck and Thomas, prepared right away," said Benevides at the club's practice facility.
DeMarco, a second-year pro, has more knowledge of B.C.'s offensive system. But Pierce, a nine-year veteran in his second stint with the Lions after being acquired in a trade from Winnipeg last week, has more CFL experience.
Benevides said he was not ready to make a declaration on who would start if Lulay can't play. Lulay was injured on the weekend while running for a 14-yard touchdown in a 36-14 victory over the Montreal Alouettes.
Lulay was not at the practice facility while reporters were present. Benevides said the QB was getting an MRI exam and could be examined again Tuesday. The coach hopes to be clear on Lulay's status by Wednesday, when the Lions return to practice.
'On Wednesday, I'll have a clearer idea of what I want to do. We're going to get both [DeMarco and Pierce] prepared, because it's going to take both of them to win a football game.' - Lions coach Mike Benevides
"On Wednesday, I'll have a clearer idea of what I want to do," said Benevides. "We're going to get both [DeMarco and Pierce] prepared, because it's going to take both of them to win a football game."
The Lions (7-4) have a chance to gain a share of second place in the West Division when they visit the Roughriders (8-3) next Sunday in Regina.
Lulay told a Vancouver radio station Monday that his shoulder "stiffened up" overnight following the win over Montreal. He also told The Canadian Press on Sunday that he was feeling stiffness, but Benevides said a team doctor was encouraged by the range of motion that the QB's shoulder displayed following the game.
Lulay also suffered a shoulder injury last year and missed the final five games of the regular season. He also had shoulder surgery in 2008 while playing for the Berlin Thunder of now-defunct NFL Europa.
DeMarco tossed his first CFL touchdown pass as the Lions led the Als from start to finish. Benevides indicated he is wary of causing a disruption in the locker-room by going with Pierce after DeMarco's supportive teammates chanted his name following an impressive showing against Montreal.
"The biggest thing for me right now is, [DeMarco] has done everything I've needed him to do," said Benevides.
Benevides acknowledged that concerns about DeMarco's ability level were part of the motivation behind the acquisition of Pierce for receiver Akeem Foster. But the coach also praised DeMarco for responding well and spending extra time on the practice field after the Lions brought back Pierce.
In 34 games in which Pierce started between 2005 and 2009, the Lions compiled a 21-12-1 mark. After joining the Bombers as a free agent in 2010, he started 32 of 33 games.
In nine CFL seasons, the New Mexico State product has thrown for 15,059 yards on 1,179 completions, a 64.3 completion percentage and 73 touchdowns.
"They do bring two unique skill sets that may help us, and should help us, win football games," said Benevides. "So I think they both are in play [as possible starters]."
DeMarco's relief experience marked his first significant regular-season action in his two seasons with B.C. He has been used primarily in short-yardage situations.
DeMarco said he must make sure the second quarterback position is not a "far drop" from when Lulay plays, and be prepared for more strategic plays than he faces when he usually gets called upon.
"There's no strategy to [a short-yardage situation]," said DeMarco. "When you're second-and-one, third-and-one, the biggest thing is: Get the snap and fall forward for the first down. That's your responsibility. That's what you're supposed to do. Starting the game or being (called) in the middle of the game, or getting six, 10 minutes, whatever it is, the biggest thing is: What's the first-down look? What's the second-down look?
"It's completely different," he said. "You've got to think more about it, and your responsibilities go way up."
DeMarco, a 24-year-old Palm Desert, Calif., native, could get his first professional start after signing with the Lions last year following six tryouts with CFL and NFL clubs. Known for being studious, DeMarco, an Old Dominion product who holds engineering and MBA degrees and works as a mortgage loans officer in Virginia in the off-season, said he will not alter his preparations.
"My study habits will be the same," he said. "The intensity will probably kick up, because my role has changed."
But if DeMarco does get the nod to start, Benevides said he will still to deployed in short-yardage situations. The decision could prevent injury to Pierce, who has suffered numerous injuries during three-plus seasons with Winnipeg and his first five CFL seasons with B.C. The Lions released the former starter following the 2009 season because of concussion woes.
Usually, a CFL club's backup QB is deployed on short-yardage downs, but Benevides wants to keep going with DeMarco because he has been successful at converting them into first downs regularly.
Aside from preserving his health, Pierce's biggest challenge will likely be to become familiar enough with B.C.'s offence again.
"Now, I'm [almost] four years removed [from B.C.'s system] and this is my third [offensive] co-ordinator in a month," said Pierce. "I'm learning as fast as I can and all that I can do."
With Lulay injured, general manager Wally Buono's acquisition of Pierce appears fortuitous. But Pierce chalked the timing up to the vagaries of his CFL tenure.
"All things, I guess, happen for a reason. a I've seen crazier things happen throughout the course of my career," said Pierce.
Notes: Saskatchewan slotback Geroy Simon, the CFL's all-time leading receiver, is slated to play his first game against his former club.