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Riders look to put damper on Chris Williams' long-awaited Lions debut
Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach Chris Jones watches the play during the first half of a pre-season CFL football game against the B.C. Lions in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, June 16, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, August 4, 2017 4:36PM CST
Quarterback Travis Lulay was on the sidelines getting ready for the B.C. Lions' next possession when a Hamilton Tiger-Cats rookie receiver grabbed everyone's attention.
Inserted into the starting lineup because of injury, Chris Williams collected a short pass and slipped through two would-be tacklers before getting spun around by another.
"He stayed on top of the defender's body," Lulay vividly recalled of the 2011 game. "He didn't get ruled down, popped up and got shot out of a cannon for another 60 yards.
"We're like, 'Who is that guy? We've never seen this guy before.' "
Williams would go on to finish with eight catches for 189 yards and a touchdown in an emphatic first step to winning the CFL's rookie of the year award.
"He caught a hook pattern and went (71 yards) because he out ran everybody," said B.C. head coach/GM Wally Buono, who was also at Empire Field that night. "It's hard not to admire that kind of skill."
The Lions (4-2) will finally get a chance to see what the dynamic speedster can add to their lineup when he makes his debut Saturday against the Saskatchewan Roughriders (2-3) at B.C. Place Stadium.
Williams, 29, signed with B.C. through 2018 this off-season despite recovering from surgery after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee late last season while playing for the Ottawa Redblacks.
After working out on his own for most of training camp and spending the first six weeks of the schedule on the injured list, Williams is eager to get back on the field.
"I'm ready to go out there and just play," said the soft-spoken New Mexico State product. "It's been a long time coming."
In his four CFL seasons split between Hamilton and Ottawa -- he spent 2013 and 2014 in the NFL -- five-foot-nine, 155-pound Williams has 318 catches for 4,822 yards and 32 touchdowns.
He registered more than 1,200 yards the last two seasons as part of an impressive Redblacks' receiving corps, including a ridiculous 493 yards and six TDs over the first three games of 2016.
Williams, who nearly joined B.C. in 2015 before signing with Ottawa, had a combined 10 catches for 271 yards and a touchdown in last year's two meetings with the Lions.
"I just want to do my thing -- keep doing what I do, what I've been doing my career," said Williams. "I make plays."
Needless to say, his new teammates are happy to finally have Williams on their side.
"We've been seeing Chris Williams do things against us for a long time," said Lulay, who will make his third straight start Saturday in place of the injured Jonathon Jennings. "It's exciting to have him."
Williams joins a talented group of receivers that includes Emmanuel Arceneaux, Bryan Burnham and Nick Moore. He'll also likely be called upon to return kicks alongside the electrifying Chris Rainey.
"It's an awesome situation for our football team," said Lulay. "It only makes us better."
B.C. will be looking to be better in many areas following last Friday's 37-26 road loss to the Edmonton Eskimos -- the Lions' second defeat of the season to their West Division rivals.
The line of scrimmage was the most glaring area of concern after Lulay was sacked four times and under seemingly constant pressure. B.C.'s pass rush was unable to consistently get in the face of Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly.
"We weren't as good as we wanted to be," said Buono. "Have we worked hard to be better this week? Yes. Are we going to be better this week? Yes."
Saskatchewan is coming off an encouraging 38-27 home win over the Toronto Argonauts where Duron Carter had nine receptions for 131 yards and two touchdowns, including a jaw-dropping one-handed TD grab.
"He should be confident," Lions cornerback Ronnie Yell said of Carter. "We know he's going to be confident, but it's my job to kill that confidence."
Saskatchewan is aiming for its first road victory of the year, and first win away from home against a division opponent since Week 11 of the 2014 season.
"They're a very well-coached football team," Riders head coach/GM Chris Jones told reporters in Regina this week about the Lions. "They're not invincible, but they play very good, tough, solid football.
"We've got to match that physicality."