Mid-term report card

BOB MACKIN -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

B.C. Lions return to the gridiron at their Whalley practice lair today after a mid-term break to begin the second half drive to the Grey Cup.

The next nine games include two key visits to Edmonton and a pair of home games against Saskatchewan.

"We have to improve in all areas, we can't stay status quo," head coach Wally Buono said. "The first half of the season has been very successful for us, the team has showed vast improvements in areas that haven't been focused on.

"When you look at why this team is 9-0, I don't think it's necessarily because the offense is that much better than it was last year, but I do believe the defense and special teams are better."

Passing

Lions have the best team passing in the league with a 73 per cent completion rate and a stingy 1.6 per cent interception percentage.

Dave Dickenson is having an all-star season after a frustrating 2004. He's hoping his separated shoulder will be healed by Thursday. Casey Printers has seen action in three games after entering the Chilliwack training camp with a sore toe and leaving with a shoulder strain that was worsened in Saskatchewan. Printers' bad luck hasn't helped his cause for a new contract and a fat raise. Buck Pierce is a pleasant surprise, while Jarious Jackson remains untested.

24 hours mid-term grade: A-

Teacher's comments: "All QBs must encourage the offensive line to help solve the sack surplus."

Receiving/Rushing

Running back Antonio Warren is an early candidate for the league's most outstanding player award. He has 11 touchdowns for 66 points and 1,234 all-purpose yards.

Wide receiver Geroy Simon remains the top passing target, but he's sharing the spotlight more with Jason Clermont, Ryan Thelwell and upstart Paris Jackson. Tony Simmons' knee injury against Calgary is the lone disappointment.

"It's a more balanced offense, everyone's getting an opportunity and taking advantage of it," Simon said.

24 hours mid-term grade: B

Teacher's comments: "Still room for improvement. Success assured if team unity continues to rank ahead of individual stats."

Offensive line

Lions' risk-taking quarterbacks have been sacked a league-leading 40 times.

"Too much is made of that single stat," said Buono, who claimed the Lions' wide-open system leaves QBs vulnerable and some sacks are inevitable.

Buono is impressed with the play of guard Sherko Rasouli, an off-season acquisition from the Montreal Alouettes.

"He's playing two-thirds of every game," Buono said. "He takes a lot of pressure off those front guys."

24 hours mid-term grade: C

Teacher's comments: "Greater attention to detail needed."

Defensive line and backfield

Defensive end Brent Johnson shares the CFL lead with eight sacks. Ex-New York Giant Frank Ferrara, rookie Chris Wilson and big Tyrone Williams have made it a more cohesive unit up front.

Carl Kidd, Barrin Simpson and Otis Floyd lead the league's deepest linebacking corps.

Backfield veterans Mark Washington and Barron Miles have stabilized a secondary that struggled in 2004.

"You can't put a value on the confidence (Miles) gives the (Tony) Tillers and (Ryan) Philips and Sam Youngs," Buono said.

Johnson said the leadership of defensive coordinator Dave Ritchie and defensive line coach Mike Roach have made the difference for new personnel and veterans.

"We were very good last year, but we went out and got what was on our wish list," Johnson said. "The maturity level on our defense is huge."

24 mid-term grade: A-

Teacher's comments: "Pupils show enthusiasm, but continued effort needed to sustain winning edge."

Special teams

Kidd's linebacking duties have diminished while his skills have been channeled to special teams coverage. He's third in the league with 13 special team tackles.

Aaron Lockett's 664 yards on kickoff returns is a league best.

Duncan O'Mahony is delivering impressive punts, though questions remain about the fiery Irishman's field goal kicking.

All will be forgiven if he finishes 2005 like he did 2004. Buono has given Bret Anderson kickoff duties to lighten O'Mahony's load.

"We're starting with much better position defensively which gives our offense more opportunity," Buono said.

24 hours mid-term grade: B-

Teacher's comments: "Pupils not reaching their potential. More practice need to strengthen weak field goal unit. History dictates playoff success depends on you."


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