B.C. Lions' backup QB Mike Reilly set for his turn in the spotlight
No one in the B.C. Lions den wants to entertain the notion of anything untoward happening to starting quarterback Travis Lulay. But Mike Reilly really has no choice. As Lulay’s backup and the understudy to the Canadian Football League’s most outstanding player last season, Reilly has to be at the ready, knowing that one big hit or one twist of the wrong body part could sideline Lulay and thrust the second-stringer into the spotlight at the controls of the Lions offence.
And judging by his performance in the Lions’ preseason-opening 44-10 victory over Saskatchewan on June 13 at B.C. Place Stadium, Reilly has given the football club every reason to believe he’d be capable of carrying the load if the situation arose. The 27-year-old marched the football up and down the field, completing 16 of 24 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns in just two quarters of exhibition action.
For a team set on defending its Grey Cup title, there was very little turnover on the B.C. Lions’ offence over the off-season. But one change was Reilly moving up the depth chart after the release of long-time backup Jarious Jackson in February. There were suggestions the Lions might search for an experienced quarterback to work behind Lulay, but those whispers have subsided and Reilly appears to have won the job, with the 2012 season set to kick off at home on June 29.
“At the end of last season, the coaches conveyed to me what they were planning on doing, saying, ‘Hey, we like what you’ve showed so far but you haven’t had a ton of opportunities, so we’d like to put you in a place where you get more exposure and we can see what you’re capable of,’ ” Reilly explained to the Georgia Straight in a telephone interview from the Lions’ training camp in Kamloops. “There was no handshake or understanding that they were going to move someone so that I could move up the depth chart. But it was definitely conveyed to me that they were expecting big things from me when I came in this year in terms of being able to help the team out. I prepared in the off-season like I have every off-season—being a pro and loving the game, I’m very intense with my workouts. I moved back to Vancouver in February to be with the guys and met with the coaches about some of the new things we were going to do this season. I’m taking this role very seriously.”
That seriousness has been evident since the first day of training camp, and it was certainly on display in Reilly’s first taste of preseason action, when he appeared poised and moved the ball confidently. The 6-3 215-pounder from Kennewick, Washington, who played his college football at Central Washington University, is now into his third season with the Lions. Last year, behind Lulay and Jackson, he had the chance to throw just two regular-season passes and completed only one of them, so he isn’t exactly battle-tested when it comes to succeeding under fire.
And Reilly is the first to acknowledge that if pressed into game action during the regular season, he’ll face tougher tests than he did on the first night of the preseason. He’ll see more complex defensive schemes and may have to deal with hostile fans in less than ideal weather conditions. It’s all part of the game, and Reilly is relishing the opportunity to show the football world what he can do.
“I’ve put in my time and I’m excited to get more reps, and I’ve definitely got a lot more reps so far during training camp, and I can definitely tell it’s enabling me to improve at a faster rate,” he said. “But it’s also an added responsibility, and your teammates know you have to be the guy to step up if anything happens, and they expect you to play well—and play well right away—so that we can win games.”
From holding a clipboard with few expectations the past couple of years to being an extra set of eyes and ears as the backup, Reilly knows things have changed. And although he hopes that Lulay picks up where he left off in last year’s breakout season, Reilly is ready to prove his worth if he gets that call.
“I’ve always been the type of guy who’s been very intense watching from the sidelines,” he said. “I like to see what the defence is doing to give Travis some keys and some reads and things that he may not be able to see. I’ve always been into the game even when I’m not playing and trying to put myself in the starter’s shoes, saying, ‘Okay, what would I have done on that play?’ I’ve got to be there for Travis because he expects that and he needs that when he comes to the sidelines. And I’ve been comfortable doing that in the past, but that’s not even an option anymore: I have to do that this year because that’s now my job.”
It wasn’t that long ago that the backup job belonged to Lulay, and look what he’s done with the opportunities he’s been given. Reilly has to realize that every down he plays this season is a chance to showcase his skills, not only for his current employers but to the rest of the CFL.
If he continues to progress, doors may open elsewhere for the capable quarterback. But that’s down the road. Right now, Reilly is happy to be where he is.
It’s safe to say the B.C. Lions are pretty happy about that too.
Jeff Paterson is a talk-show host on Vancouver’s all-sports radio Team 1040. Follow him on Twitter at @patersonjeff.