As if the BC Lions‘ defense couldn’t get any better, they may see the return of last year’s Top Hardest Hitter.
On Saturday, the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings released Solomon Elimimian. The former standout BC Lion middle linebacker signed with the team in the offseason while in his CFL option year. He now has ten days to sign with another NFL team and if he remains unsigned, his rights will revert back to the Lions. He is a humble, yet tenacious player with great speed and there is no quit in his game. Since 2010, he has recorded 175 tackles, 9 sacks, and 2 interceptions in the regular season, while helping the Lions capture the Grey Cup last season.
The prospect of such a player returning creates a fantastic problem for the Lions.
Any other year, the Lions could easily stick Elimimian into his normal spot at middle linebacker, but Adam Bighill is having an incredible year. He’s on pace for over 100 tackles, which would be more than Elimiman ever had with the Lions. Whatever the Lions decide to do, should Elimimian return, both of these guys need to be on the field as much as possible. Both of them don’t necessarily need to be starters, but with two great talents like that, head coach Mike Benevides and defensive coordinator Rich Stubler must be salivating at the prospect of having both of them patrolling the field at the same time.
If by chance Elimimian finds work elsewhere in the coming days, I’m sure the Lions wouldn’t be too disappointed, seeing as their defense has only given up one touchdown in over four games. They are already a strong, cohesive unit that would only get stronger with the addition of a Solomon Elimimian. If the Lions do regain his rights, they have several options. These are my three potential ways of dealing with Elimimian.
1. Release/Trade Him
I find this unlikely. Having two MVP calibre players at any position instantly makes a team better. Plus, in case of injury or times of struggle, it’s nice to know you have another player ready to step in when needed. However, if the Lions’ brass determine that their defense is fine as is, they could release him or trade him to a struggling team, such as Winnipeg or Saskatchewan, and get decent return.
2. Switch To a 3-4 Defense
For those who don’t know, the 3-4 defense consists of three defensive lineman and four linebackers, with one serving as nickel back, a combination of line backer and defensive back. The Lions used this system early on last season, but it didn’t work with their personnel and contributed to the team’s slow start to the year. Currently, the Lions use a 4-3 system – four defensive linemen (Keron Williams, Khalif Mitchell, Eric Taylor, and Khreem Smith, with Jabar Westerman and Maurice Evans subbing in at times) and three linebackers (Anton McKenzie, Adam Bighill, and Anthony Reddick, with James Yurichuk subbing in).
Now, factor Elimimian into the potential 3-4 scheme. You keep Williams, Mitchell, and Smith starting on the line, with the others subbing in in different packages, and, wait for it, McKenzie, Elimimian, Bighill, and Reddick (nickelback), at linebacker. It’s difficult to imagine a front seven more intimidating for offenses to plan around. This style would be a tough adjustment, but it would keep most of the big playmakers in the lineup. If this is the choice, it could pay dividends down the road.
3. Swap Out Reddick For Elimimian
Not a knock on Anthony Reddick by any means as he has played great this year, but the prospect of McKenzie, Elimimian, and Bighill together could be too good to pass up. This is the most viable option in my opinion because the D-Line stays intact and the linebackers become even stronger and faster than they were already. There are no real adjustments to make as far as the scheme goes and it is what has made them so successful all year.
Nothing is set in stone yet. We don’t know what Is going through Solomon Elimimian’s minds right now. I’m sure the NFL is his top priority right now, but the CFL and more specifically the BC Lions must feel like home to him. They gave him his start and that is something he will never forget and something he has to consider, just as Khalif Mitchell did in the offseason by turning down big money in the NFL to be a superstar in this league. Based on his work ethic and hard nosed play, I’m sure Elimimian would much rather be an every down guy here than be a back up at best in the NFL. But when the days pass, if he’s available, Mike Benevides needs to integrate him into the lineup while maintaining the integrity of his defense and his team. If he can do so, this BC Lions defense could be, and already is, something special.
-Andrew Deutschmann (@Canucks_Lions)