Lions bulk up defensive line with Williams extension
VANCOUVER -- Keron Williams thinks his best football is yet to come -- and the B.C. Lions must have believed him, because they've extended his contract with the CFL team through the 2013 season.
Williams, the team's highest profile signing last season, after the Lions lost Ricky Foley to free agency, finished with a rush last season after a groin injury suffered in the season opener, July 4 against Edmonton, played havoc with the defensive lineman's productivity. Williams was in pain, both physically and spiritually, for several games as the Lions started 1-7.
"That groin injury slowed me up a lot," Williams admitted Friday. "I started training camp very strong. I had high hopes for myself, as well as everybody else. I was back in after missing two games but it really took six weeks before I could play effectively. I was not my normal self. By the end of the season, I was finally myself again. And I got the gist of what I was supposed to do to get the quarterback. The first nine weeks were a deep valley for sure. We had to climb out of large deficit."
After veteran defensive lineman Jonathan Brown was pulled out of mothballs because of injuries throughout the defensive line, the Lions regrouped and finished 7-3 down the stretch to qualify for the playoffs. They lost the West Division semifinal in overtime against Saskatchewan, a game in which Williams was unstoppable with four tackles and three sacks.
Brown, 35, is not returning, however, nor is NFL journeyman defensive tackle Steve Williams, who was released on Friday along with offensive lineman Sherko Haji-Rasouli.
With Keron Williams and Brent Johnson, at defensive end, and Aaron Hunt and Khalif Mitchell at tackle, the Lions will have a solid core returning on the defensive line. DE Jeremy Geathers, who ripped up his knee in his first CFL start Sept. 11, is also expected to be in the mix.
"We have the foundation for the structure," Williams says. "We just have to keep building on what we have. J.B. [Brown] is going to be a tough guy to replace. He was energetic, a positive leader, outspoken. He just fell in here [Brown arrived in August] and played well, like he was here since training camp. And he stayed relatively healthy. We lost several guys because of injury. We rolled a lot of different guys, in and out."
Two pickups who were with the Lions very briefly on the practice roster, Angelo Craig and Brandon Sharpe, both defensive ends, have found employment elsewhere. Craig, an NFL journeyman, signed with the Spokane Shock of the Arena. Sharpe went to the Arizona Cardinals.
Lions player personnel coordinator Neil McEvoy said improving depth on the defensive line is one of the goals when team starts its series of free agent camps next month. The first is scheduled Feb. 19, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"Wide receiver and rush end will be two of our priorities," McEvoy said.
The Lions are still without a defensive line coach after Rich Stubler jumped to the Edmonton Eskimos to become the team's defensive coordinator. Lions' DC, Mike Benevides, has been sounding out players such as Williams about the qualities they would like to see in Stubler's replacement.
"Stubes is a funny, funny character," Williams says. "He tells some great stories. But, football-wise, he's very smart and intelligent. He knows how to break down an offence within five plays. When you take that equation out of the team, it could be iffy to start. I'm eager to find out who that replacement will be. Coach Benny and I have had several conversations on the calibre of guy we need. We need structure."
Meanwhile, Haji-Rasouli, an eight-year CFL veteran, spent six seasons in with the Lions after signing as a free agent with the club in 2005. One of the club's longest-serving players, he logged 92 regular season games in a B.C. uniform and 111 overall.
"Sherko was a leader for our club on the field and in the dressing room and we wish him as well as Steve the best in any future endeavours," said Lions GM and head coach Wally Buono.