Geathers hopes to stick with Lions after another AFL stint
KAMLOOPS, B.C. - Two years after suffering a major knee injury, Jeremy Geathers is back with the B.C. Lions trying to earn one of the few available jobs.
Geathers was on the Lions' 2010 roster, but he suffered torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments on punt-return coverage in his first game. It took the 25-year-old New Orleans native a full year to recover after he underwent surgery that included replacing his ACL with part of his hamstring.
He still almost did not make it to training camp with the Grey Cup champions after recovering sufficiently.
The Lions released him prior to their 2011 training camp. He took the release "real personal" because he had worked extremely hard to rehabilitate the knee and still had a year to go on his contract.
Then he balked at B.C.'s new two-year contract offer last July and wound up back in the Arena Football League, playing second stints with the Chicago Rush and Spokane Shock.
"I wanted more money," Geathers said. "I wanted one year. I wasn't thinking straight at the time. I missed my blessing. I'm just glad that they offered me (a contract) again."
Geathers' first go-round with the Lions began midway through the 2010 season as he signed as a free agent out of the Arena League. The circuitous professional route began after he went undrafted by the NFL following a collegiate career with the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and Butler Community College in Kansas. He signed with the New Orleans Saints in 2008 and then spent 2009 rehabilitating a thigh injury.
The return to B.C. meant delaying an NFL dream that runs in his blood. His father Jumpy Geathers played 12 seasons as a defensive end with the Saints, Washington Redskins, Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos. An uncle, Robert Geathers, Sr., is a former Buffalo Bill, while cousins Robert Geathers Jr., (Dallas Cowboys) and Clifton Geathers (Cincinnati Bengals) are also with NFL clubs. Another cousin, Kwame Geathers, is a standout at Georgia who is being touted as an early-round pick in the 2013 draft.
The B.C. hopeful's younger brother Jarvis is also pursuing an NFL shot while toiling with Georgia Crush in the Arena League. Most play the same defensive end position.
"I felt loyalty here, so I just signed right away," Geathers said. "I had a couple NFL opportunities — with the Bills, (Seattle) Seahawks and (Philadelphia) Eagles — but none of them invited (me to training camp). They put me on a waiting list, so I came here smokin'. I've been out of school since '08 and I've been waiting on the NFL. My whole family played in the league. This summer, I had to take my first opportunity."
So far, coach Mike Benevides likes what he has seen from Geathers. The coach said Geathers' biggest advantage is his speed off the snap, but he still wants the lineman to show more creativity.
"What Jeremy's got to do now is adjust and add to his repertoire — inside moves, outside moves, those type of things," Benevides said. "He's done a real nice job (of recovery) and I'm quite impressed with where he's at. ... He's a guy that wants this badly. He wanted it last year. He wasn't quite healthy enough, so he's got the passion to do this."
Geathers is in position to earn one of two defensive-line spots vacated by Brent Johnson's retirement and defensive tackle Aaron Hunt's free-agent departure to the Montreal Alouettes. He is among seven defensive ends vying for full-time employment with a veteran-laden club that spent the past two seasons revamping its roster but is not expected to make many changes this year.
"We have a very competitive group there (on the defensive line) and we're going to have to wait a while to see how it all plays out, because every day someone else shows something else," Benevides said. "I would say that is one of the most interesting battles to look at."
In keeping with a strategy that proved successful last season, the Lions will work their defensive ends among a six-man rotation on the defensive line during games. The pass-rush formation will feature different looks on different downs. Veterans Keron Williams, who earned Western Division all-star honours in 2011, and Khreem Smith, who became a standout after joining the team early in the season, have virtual locks on defensive end spots.
Rookie Jabar Westerman, B.C.'s top choice in the 2012 Canadian draft who impressed Benevides in the first three days of camp, has all but locked up another defensive-end spot. General manager Wally Buono's philosophy is to use first-round picks only on players that he feels capable of cracking the 42-man roster, so Westerman will only be released if he somehow plays his way off the team. Benevides is already predicting he will have a great career.
Meanwhile, former Edmonton Eskimos offensive lineman Patrick Kabongo joined the Lions on Tuesday after signing with the team a day earlier. He was brought in for insurance purposes after both Jesse Newman and Dean Valli went down with knee injuries.
"He's here to fill a role, and he's going to have a lot of work to get done, but we'll see how it goes," said Benevides.
Kabongo, who was born in Zaire and grew up in Montreal, spent eight seasons with the Eskimos. The six-foot-six guard helped Edmonton win a Grey Cup in 2005 and was named a CFL all-star in 2008.
He was home in the Alberta capital preparing to embark on his post-football career in medical-supply sales when Buono called and asked him to help the Lions.
"I was hoping for the best, but you've got to be ready for a plan B," Kabongo said.