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Lions’ Offensive Pregame Preview: Mason, O-line locked, loaded, and ready to deflect Bengals’ pass rush

September 5, 2009

On the eve of his first game in year-two as Lions’ offensive coordinator, Bobby Acosta doesn’t have a whole lot to say about speculations, statistics, expectations–none of that. He’s squarely focused his attention on–in his opinion–the only thing that really matters.

Gameday.

“There’s no turning back now,” he said Friday, wearing a wry grin on the walk back from the team’s ritual pregame walk-through. “We’re good to go.”

In spite of the circumstances–tomorrow’s opponent, Buffalo State, had ample success rushing the quarterback throughout the 2008 regular season (two sacks per game; fourth in NJAC) as well as against the Lions during the two teams’ meeting in New York last fall–Acosta’s thrown up the blinders in apathy to what happened a year ago. And there won’t be any faltering in his concentration this late in the game.

“There’s no thinking now, we just gotta play. There’s no ‘what if’s and ‘what’ll happen’s. We just gotta play. You know what I’m saying?”

During the Bengals’ homecoming last fall, the Lions’ offense attacked its opponent’s defense with the relent of an ancient Greek, scoring 42 points on a rout of the conference’s ninth-ranked pass defense–dead last in the NJAC (allowed opposing QB pass rating of 150.7 per game).

Adhering to the earlier comparison, though it was in defeat, Buffalo State also identified the Lions’ Achilles heel.

The last time the teams met, the Lions’ scored on all of its offensive possessions, with a few exceptions.

In spite of his success at various other times during the season, the Bengals’ defense simply had Bill Picatagi‘s number. The two drives during which he took snaps from center resulted in a punt, a turnover and a whopping zero combined points (three plays, seven yards; four plays, seven yards and a fumble lost).

Another drive, a valiant two-minute drill attempt, ended as time expired in the first half (three plays, 19 yards).

The only other two stagnant offensive possessions–one in the second quarter and another with two minutes remaining in the contest–stalled after the team allowed a sack. Should the team’s ability to score hinge upon its ability to block for its quarterback, Lions’ fans should seek comfort in the resounding confidence with the man most responsible for keeping Chris James‘ jersey clean.

“We’re going to look good tomorrow,” said left tackle Drew Mason–who’s going to be responsible for protecting James’ backside against a Bengals’ pass rush that returns two of its three sack leaders from a year ago, team c0-captains in linebacker Jermaine Rose and defensive end Joe Perez. “We’re confident in what we’re going to be able to do [against them].”

Nothing short of annoyed at the mere question of his and his unit’s abilities, Mason spit some statistics of his own.

“Our entire offensive line didn’t give up a sack against Albright,” he said in reference to the unit’s success in its simulated scrimmage against the Lions’ of Reading, PA, the team’s annual preseason adversary of Division III’s Middle Atlantic Conference.”I’m absolutely confident in our abilities. That’s why you go out there and play the game.”

Though he’ll have to prove it on the field, Mason didn’t seem timid when faced with a potentially daunting task, largely due to his experience and familiarity with the position–a rarity among offensive linemen who are often asked to swap roles to fill holes vacated by injury.

“Personally, I feel great at left tackle,” he said after Friday’s light practice. “It’s the only position I’ve played in position my entire life.”

Chris James, who will undoubtedly be the greatest beneficiary should Mason live up to his own hype, echoed the strong words of his teammate.

“I trust in every offensive lineman we have,” said the three-year starter from Central Jersey Group IV’s Brick Memorial High, mindful of the unit’s extensive youth that’s going to be broken in come kickoff. “You know that’s why we go through the preseason. There’s a couple new guys, a couple new positions, but I trust them. I trust them with everything I have.”

A student of the game and an apparent realist, James isn’t blinded by his confidence and recognizes that–from time to time–miscues are bound to happen.

“Sometimes a sack gets let up, sometimes the defense just gets to you,” he said, frankly. “Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to the defense. In those cases all that matters is the next play.”

Should he find himself under duress, James’ isn’t likely to make errant throws that jeopardize the offense’s ball security. Last season he ranked first among all of the conference’s passers in attempts per interception (seven INTs on 257 attempts; 36.7 ATT/INT).

Entering his final season in Trenton, James describes his maturity as throughout his career, a learning experience that has taught him–more often than not–less is more.

“When you’re younger as a quarterback coming into college, you always want to gun the ball,” he said, remembering his youthful mistakes. “You always try to just throw it as hard as you can. After a while you realize, you can always gun the ball, but it’s more about precision and accuracy. You have to learn to just let the ball go on time and make sure you hit those windows when they’re open. If you don’t, that’s when you get interceptions.”

All things considered, with the next mornings sunrise comes a new chapter in the team’s 16-month journey back to greatness, as it seeks to return to its 2007 role as top-dogs in the NJAC. Kickoff to the ’09 regular season marks the culmination of the team’s unremitting preparation, following a disappointing finish from a year ago–a fresh start with fresh hope for an unencumbered quest for glory.

Tomorrow’s season opener is scheduled to begin at noon, hosted by the suburban liberal arts college in Lions’ Stadium.

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