T.J. Lee would be forgiven if he expressed some concern over a position change.
The B.C. Lions’ defensive back enjoyed a career year in 2018 playing at weak-side halfback, but has moved to strong-side halfback in time for the 2019 CFL campaign.
“It’s a completely different position,” Lee said on Wednesday at training camp in Kamloops. “It’s a lot more field, a lot more pass routes. I’m more so out of the run game, but I’m very much in the pass game, working with a whole lot more field. I’ve got to work with spacing and communicate a lot more.”
Lee is embracing the change and perhaps that is easier to do given who is replacing him — childhood best friend Aaron Grymes.
“I believe in the coaches, I believe in the system and I believe in myself,” Lee said. “I believe I can play this game and not just one position. I can play everywhere.”
Grymes, who had a career-best season for the Edmonton Eskimos in 2018, can play at both halfback and corner, but sits No. 1 on the most recent depth chart at weak half.
“If they feel like they have a player who is better at boundary corner, so they’re not going to bother putting me there because they know they can put me somewhere else, then I want to do that. I want to do what’s best for this defence," Grymes said.
“You want to say I wish I could play next to my childhood best friend, but at the same time, that’s probably not best for the defence. I’d rather play on opposite sides because I can communicate to my side, he can communicate to his side and we can meet in the middle and make sure we’re on the same page.”
Grymes played in 17 games for the Esks last year and collected 58 defensive tackles, five special-teams tackles, three interceptions, one touchdown and one forced fumble.
Not to be outdone, Lee suited up in 18 games for the Leos and racked up 81 defensive tackles, two special-teams tackles, three picks, one touchdown and two forced fumbles en route to being named a West Division all-star.
It appears Lee put in off-season work for Lions’ GM Ed Hervey, reaching out to the friend he went to high school with and played minor football with from the ages of seven to 18 in Seattle.
“I’m like, dude, come here if you want to be here,” Lee said. “I’m your best friend. This is home. I know you developed a nice legacy in Edmonton, but this is home.
“I know you want to play here. I didn’t have to do much swaying. I think I said the right things and backed up enough for him to make the decision on his own.”
Washington state is well-represented in the Lions’ secondary.
Defensive backs Carson Ketter (Ocean Shores), Victor Gamboa (Tacoma) and D-Londo Tucker (Tacoma) join Lee and Grymes on the sizeable list.
Ryan Phillips, who coaches the unit, is from Seattle.
“I think it’s beautiful,” Lee said. “It’s a breed.”
Not from Washington state — Rich Stubler, the native of Glenwood Springs, Colo., who took over from Mark Washington as defensive co-ordinator in time for the 2019 season.
“The schemes we’re trying to run are way easier than any other year I’ve been here,” Lee said. “It’s really on the players to communicate and make things happen — play top down, let the offence make a mistake and capitalize.
“I’ve got to get rid of my old habits. With Mark, it was a very complex scheme, very heady.”
New positions and schemes are set for a test run, with the Eskimos slated to host the Lions in pre-season play on Sunday.
“Wherever coach wants me to play, I’m going to play,” Lee said. “Get your ego out of it. It’s not about my ego, not about my stats. It’s about this year.”