With the 2018 National Arena League to open next month, the Columbus Lions got a jump with March 13th “Media Day” showcasing three returnees and two new Lions for the 2018 season. Also present at Media day were sponsors and Lion co-owners as well as Lions’ staff.
Officially players are to report March 23rd for team physicals with practice beginning on the 24th. But these five players that met with the area media looked in shape to begin play this weekend.
Returnees Chris Pickett, Mason Espinosa and David Griffin were on hand along with rookie defensive back Robert Sands and Jeremy Johnson. Auburn fans would recognize the 6-5 Johnson from his days at Auburn. He is joining his brother Jamel Johnson, a rookie who played at Alabama State.
Johnson will be vying for playing time with Espinosa, who took the Lions to the championship game in 2017 but it seems good for both players to have quarterback competition.
“This is professional football and the coach and team has to sign players to make the team better,” said Espinosa. “What you have to do is bring the best 21 players on the field and your guys have to beat their guys. It’s the name of the game.”
Asked Espinosa about returning, he was very candid that he wanted to be in Columbus.
“Last year we had several games on the road so you get close with your team. This is a great bunch of guys and I am excited about returning. It’s not a day I don’t think about how close we came last year about how close we came and this year we want to get that championship.”
Johnson was also excited about coming to the Lions.
“This is a great atmosphere and coach (Jason Gibson) is very energetic and you can see he works hard. I feel I can also learn from Mason. He’s been there and can help me pick things up,” Johnson pointed out.
Asked about playing indoor football, Johnson admitted to not having experience but added. ‘I have been studying film and videos. There is not as much space and as coach says, your reads have to be quicker and your throws more precise.” Johnson added.
Protecting both quarterbacks will be big David Griffin. The 6-6 325 tackle got a lot of work last year and has taken to the indoor game. Asked what he has learned in a year compared to the college game, Griffin was quick to answer.
“I had to learn some new techniques because you have quick steps to move laterally. The coaches helped me because I played guard as well so it was just new skills that I feel have made me a better player,” Griffin reported.
Asked about his coach who he has played for Griffin would only say, “Coach is what he needs to be when the situation arises. But it feels almost like Christmas to be back and I am ready to play.”
Both Espinosa and Pickett nodded strongly in agreement with Griffin’s statement.
Finally, newcomer Sands was present with his wife as they got a feel for their new life. Sands is a rookie to the Lions but is no rookie to football having two years with the Cincinnati Bengals and a year with the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL.
He feels he can accommodate his style as well with the Lions.
“I played on a regular field and then a larger field in the Canadian League and I was able to adapt. One thing that I feel that will help is the motion rule in the CFL and the Indoor league is similar.” Sands said. “That means that on a smaller field, it is fast pace and quick reads.”
“I also hope to get a shot at playing special teams returning kicks,” Sands added.
With these types of players, Gibson feels he can build a strong core for 2018. His main response for 2018—“Go Lions!”