Wednesday, July 13, 2016
JENNINGS TO START VERSUS ROUGHRIDERS
Coach/GM Wally Buono said the 23-year-old sophomore will be back behind centre Saturday when the 2-1 Lions travel to face the 0-2 Saskatchewan Roughriders, despite being lifted for Travis Lulay in B.C.'s 25-14 home loss to Toronto last week.
Jennings turned heads when given an opportunity after Lulay and John Beck went down with injuries last year, but the start of his second season has not reflected steady growth.
He's last among starters in passing completions and efficiency rating and has thrown for only one touchdown so far, which is balanced by the Lions' league-leading rushing average of 109.3 yards per game.
Jennings said the added pressure of being asked to deliver results as an established starter hasn't changed his outlook. The downturn is a result of how opposing defences have prepared for him now that he has put his game on film.
"Last year I got away with things that made up for certain mistakes. This year they're catching up a bit,'' Jennings said. "It's a good thing because it allows me to grow.''
B.C. had a 3-3 record with Jennings under centre last season but the Lions ensured stability at the position during the winter by giving both Jennings and Lulay contract extensions. Lulay is currently the highest-paid Lions quarterback but Jennings will make $300,000 in 2018 in the final year of his new deal.
Jennings has not thrown for more than 300 passing yards in his last six regular-season starts dating back to last year, and was pulled last week one series after throwing his first interception this season.
It could not have come as a surprise, however. Prior to the Lions' first road game of the regular season schedule in Hamilton, the club told Jennings he would be pulled if he couldn't adjust. B.C. won 28-3.
"If he can't handle being pulled he'll never be a pro quarterback,'' said Buono, whose reputation for pulling more established quarterbacking stars in the CFL is legendary.
Lions offensive co-ordinator Khari Jones admits he is careful not to overburden Jennings, who will make just his 10th career regular-season start Saturday.
"He didn't even have time to be a backup and I always say it's great for a guy to experience being a backup for a year,'' said Jones. "He's still the same Jon but I told him teams now have a book on him whereas last year he was kind of an open book so you didn't know what to expect.''
Part of the problem is the fact Jennings had success early.
"He set expectations high for himself,'' said Lulay. "He threw for 300 yards last year in a half against Winnipeg. Ask Anthony Calvillo how many times in a 20-year career he did in a half; maybe he never did.
"Sometimes when you're playing fresh to the league (Jennings) doesn't know what he doesn't know. He's playing on instinct. The thing about Jon that gives him a chance to grow is that he knows he doesn't know everything. He's not fooling himself.''
Lulay rarely benefitted from stability on the offensive line. Jennings has been more fortunate. He'll have the same five starters up front against Saskatchewan, as rookie right guard Charles Vaillancourt remains in concussion protocol. Veteran Kirby Fabien will start for the second straight week.
Anthony Allen received first-team reps for the second straight practice Wednesday and his expected to start at tailback against his former team, allowing Jeremiah Johnson more rest as the Lions have a bye next week.
Defensive tackle Mich'ael Brooks will also return against Saskatchewan after missing last week to an ankle injury.