Lions will be team to beat

IAN BUSBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

Wally Buono just chuckles at the notion he has found the secret to success in the CFL.

It would seem the long-time head coach must have some magic beads or a wand that gives him a competitive team year in and year out.

To Buono, who is in his sixth season with the Lions and coming off the best season in franchise history (14-3-1), the formula is simple and much more bland.

He just surrounds himself with coaches and players of quality.

So once again, the Lions will be the team to beat in the West Division because the core group of players is returning in 2008.

"Our biggest strength is our returning veterans," Buono said.

"We have a lot of good football players who have won a lot of games and have a tremendous amount of experience. That in itself is our strength, but it all has to be brought together and developed into a team."

Although quarterback Dave Dickenson was released, the Lions are still solid at the key position with Jarious Jackson and Buck Pierce.

At receiver, Geroy Simon and Canadians Jason Clermont and Paris Jackson anchor another solid group, although there are questions about the rest of their depth.

The offensive line remains strong with import tackles Rob Murphy and Jason Jimenez opening holes for running back Joe Smith.

The Lions defence starts with a great pass rush from 2006 Canadian and defensive player of the year Brent Johnson and last year's leader in QB sacks, Cam Wake.

Veterans Otis Floyd and Javier Glatt return at linebacker, while the secondary boasts 11-year veteran safety Barron Miles, who works alongside 2007 CFL interceptions leader Ryan Phillips.

A year ago, nobody knew about Wake and he dominated in winning the rookie of the year. Smith did the same thing the previous year, although not technically a rookie.

"I believe we've improved ourselves," Buono said. "We have added some young guys who could make us more skilful as a football team. That doesn't mean you are going to win more games than you won last year."

One area that did see some turnover was the football operations and coaching staff.

Director of player personnel Bob O'Billovich, now general manager in Hamilton, was replaced by former Saskatchewan Roughriders GM Roy Shivers.

Defensive co-ordinator Dave Ritchie retired, so Buono promoted special teams and linebackers coach Mike Benevides.

Returning is former offensive co-ordinator Jacques Chapdelaine to coach the receivers and Chuck McMann was added to work with the special teams and running backs.

Former Lions player Mark Washington will be instructing his old teammates as defensive backs coach, while Dan Dorazio returns as full-time offensive co-ordinator after sharing the role last year.

Former co-offensive co-ordinator Steff Kruck remains as quarterbacks coach, while veteran Mike Roach is still defensive line coach.

So Buono feels comfortable in saying he has surrounded himself with great people.

"That's part of the process of staying on top, always being able to keep a level of excellence in the people," Buono said.

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ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES

Last season: 14-3-1

Key departures: QB Dave Dickenson, Defensive co-ordinator Dave Ritchie, DB Mark Washington, director of player personnel Bob O'Billovich.

Key additions: Director of player personnel Roy Shivers, receivers coach Jacques Chapdelaine, special teams/running backs coach Chuck McMann, FB Rolly Lumbala (draft).


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