Columbus Lions coach Jason Gibson is dreading Monday.
He gets an opportunity to assess his team at today’s 7 p.m. preseason scrimmage against the North Georgia Bulldogs at the Civic Center, but will then have to trim a roster that includes what the coach expects to again be the Southern Indoor Football League’s best defense as it looks to defend its 2010 league title.
“Right now I’m looking to see who we’ve got, and we have a lot of talent,” Gibson said. “There are some cuts I don’t want to have to make.”
The Lions return nine players from last season’s Southern Indoor Football League title run including a strong middle defense that includes reigning league defensive MVP in defensive back Damian Daniels, defensive back Anthony Merritt, linebacker Ryan Babb and defensive lineman Franklin Lloyd.
Add to the mix several key signings in defensive backs Guesly Dervil of West Virginia and Kirkston Edwards of Central Michigan, linebacker Dustin Doe from Florida, tight end and fullback Ben Busbee from South Florida and former Troy and NFL defensive lineman Chris Bradwell and Gibson has had arguably the best offseason signing splurge in the league.
Gibson’s cuts could be even more painstaking had some of the most high-profile signings not fallen through before the start of training camp.
Former Florida defensive backs Wondy Pierre-Louis and Markihe Anderson are with the AFL’s Tampa Bay Storm, and former Georgia defensive lineman and linebacker Marcus Washington and former Auburn defensive lineman Tez Doolittle failed to report to training camp.
“That really hurts us because I was counting on those guys,” Gibson said. “At least with Tez, I think he’s a little banged up with a bad hamstring right now, but we may be able to revisit that with him later and get him eventually.”
Offensively, there are a few key returners, too, in quarterback Chris McCoy, the 2010 league offensive MVP, and receivers Gerald Gales and Tirone Morris. But offense has taken up most of Gibson’s attention as he has some holes to fill in along the offensive line, where the Lions lost several members of last season’s title run including Terance Crosby, who signed with the AFL’s Iowa Barnstormers, and Tim Johnson, who is now working in Atlanta and could not re-sign.
Yet all in all, the Lions are at least a couple of weeks ahead of where they have been in terms of getting in shape and learning the system, and the preseason talent level is well above anything third-year receiver Gerald Gales said he has seen before.
“It’s been a big plus that everyone is in shape and the new guys are willing to learn,” Gales said. “The rookies are looking at the vets and learning how to play, and they’re catching on real fast. This is the most talented team I’ve seen in the three years, so you don’t have to do much coaching. We need that this year because there’s a target on our backs.”
Chris White, 706-571-8571; follow Chris online at twitter.com/le_chriswhite and at facebook.com/lechriswhite.