For the past couple of weeks, the Columbus Lions have been beating up on each other in practice at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium.
Tonight, the Lions get to take out their frustrations on someone else as they host the Team James All-Stars in an exhibition game at the Columbus Civic Center. Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 6 p.m.
“Our practices are getting better each day, but we’re still a long way from where we need to be,” said Lions coach Jason Gibson after a practice earlier this week. “We’ve got a lot of rookies on defense and right now, our offense has been beating up on our defense. You don’t want that happening too much. We want to be to where our defense is actually a step ahead of our offense, which is the way it’s been the past few years.”
Being able to play an exhibition game before Saturday’s season opener against the Richmond Raiders in Virginia is critical as Gibson and his coaching staff decide which players to keep and who to release. The Lions currently have about 40 players in camp, can keep 27 on their roster and are able to dress 20 on game nights.
“We’ve got some good guys in camp,” said Gibson. “There’s a lot of good Division-I level talent there. We’re bigger and more physical than we ever have been, but we’re thin in some spots due to injuries. We’ve only got three offensive linemen who are healthy. We have as many quarterbacks in camp as we do offensive linemen.”
The Lions went 11-1 in the regular season last season in the Southern Indoor Football League, averaging 61.8 points per game, and are returning a number of offensive players off that squad.
Leading the returnees is quarterback Chris McCoy, who accounted for 73 touchdowns last season. He has a talented trio of receivers to throw to in Gerald Gales, Anthony Merritt and Brandon Horace, who combined for 171 receptions in 2011. Gales and Merritt each topped 70 receptions and Horace came on strong down the stretch.
That doesn’t even include Maurice Dupree, a speedy wideout who has spent time with the Jacksonville Jaguars and had to leave the Lions after two games last season due to a family emergency.
New season, new league
The Lions are a part of the new Professional Indoor Football League (PIFL) after the folding of the Southern Indoor Football League.
Much of the league will have a familiar feel, though, as all six of the PIFL members were in the SIFL last season. Joining Columbus are the Richmond Raiders, Albany Panthers, Alabama Hammers (located in Huntsville, Ala.), Louisiana Swashbucklers (based out of Lake Charles, La.) and Knoxville (Tenn.) Nighthawks.
“The name of the league is new, but it’s not really that new,” said Gibson. “It’s more like we trimmed the fat off of the league. These are the best of the best from the old league and each game is going to be a dogfight. I think fans would rather come see a close game, even if their team loses, than see a game that ends up 88-0 or something like that. On paper, our league is going to be one where there shouldn’t be a dull moment competitively.”
Each team will play 12 regular-season games and the top four teams will advance to the playoffs. The No. 1 seed will host the No. 4 seed and the No. 2 hosts No. 3 in the semifinals. The championship game will be at the home of the highest remaining seed.
Getting things started
The Columbus-Richmond game at the Richmond Colisuem will be the league’s first game of the season. All six teams will be in action March 17, with Knoxville coming to Columbus to take on the Lions at the Civic Center; Albany hosting Richmond; and Alabama travelling to Louisiana.