Measuring Up: Offensive Line

In football, it doesn’t matter if you have the best quarterback, a top running back, and all-star receivers if you do not have an effective offensive line. The Edmonton Eskimos were extremely fortunate to go through the entire 2009 season without sustaining a single significant injury to any of the their starters. From left to right, Joe McGrath, Kyle Koch, Aaron Fiacconi, Patrick Kabongo, and Calvin Armstrong certainly provided the Eskimos with a consistent presence protecting Ricky Ray. For the year, they were actually quite good despite the Eskimos 9-9 record. They only surrendered 29 sacks, while plowing the road for Arkee Whitlock to rush for 1,293 yards to finish third in the league in rushing despite Whitlock not playing in the first game of the season.

So how do they stack up against the other offensive lines around the league?

BC Lions

Angus Reid started 142 consecutive games at centre for the Lions prior to suffering a broken foot last October. The guy is as good as they come and will no doubt be back in his starting role in the season opener. With a healthy Reid, Dean Valli will move back to his guard position along with Sherko Haji-Rasouli. It looks like Justin Sorenson will have the inside track at the starting right tackle spot, while import Daren Heerspink, although listed on the roster as guard, will most likely cover the blind side. The Lions offensive line ranked in the middle of the CFL pack in most categories in 2009. They gave up 40 sacks last year, good for fifth in the league. BC drafted Danny Watkins in the first round of the CFL Draft, but he’s at least a year away from joining the team. For the upcoming season, the organization has brought in pretty solid looking group of prospects including former Florida Gator Carlton Meader who was part of the 2007 national championship team.

Calgary Stampeders

The retirement of Jeff Pilon and to a lesser extent, John Comiskey, leaves the offensive line of the Stampeders in a somewhat precarious position entering the 2010 season. Calgary led the league in rushing last year while giving up 35 sacks, good for third in the league. They return import CFL All-Star Ben Archibald at left tackle, as well as non-imports Rob Lazeo, Jesse Newman, and Tim O’Neill, all of whom started games in 2009. To replenish their offensive line, the Stamps have brought Dan Comiskey out of retirement and signed former Blue Bomber Matt Sheridan. Despite the additions they have made, Calgary lacks any type of depth along the offensive line and it will be interesting to see how they perform early in the 2010 season. The one positive for Calgary is that Henry Burris is one of the more mobile quarterbacks in the league and Joffrey Reynolds is arguably the league’s top running back.

Saskatchewan Roughriders

The core of the Roughriders offensive line is starting to age and may well only have a year or two left in the tank. Center Jeremy O’Day continues to play at a high level despite entering his 15th year in the league. His tenure with the Green Riders however, is surpassed by guard Gene Makowsky, who is entering his 16th year wearing Saskatchewan green. What is impressive is that in 2009, Makowsky was the Riders nominee for Most Outstanding Lineman. Non-imports Marc Parenteau and Chris Best started the majority of the season at guard for the team with Makowsky kicking out to tackle. Import Joel Bell, who started the 2009 season with the Buffalo Bills before coming north, rounds out the starting lineup at right tackle. Saskatchewan has great organizational depth with numerous players coming back from injury that could make a strong push to start. Belton Johnson was the opening day starter at left tackle in 2009 for the Riders and Wayne Smith missed the entire season recovering from an Achilles tendon injury. Newly acquired tackle Dan Goodspeed will also be in the mix for playing time. Saskatchewan’s running game struggled last year and the result was giving up 41 sacks, good for sixth in the league.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Winnipeg finished seventh in the league last year, which usually means there are a few weak spots on the team. Offensive line was not one of them. They gave up the fewest sacks in the league with only 26 being surrendered while blowing up holes for running back Fred Reid to scamper for over 1,300 yards. Import Glenn January starts at right tackle with non-import Steve Morley covering the blind side. On the inside of the line, Winnipeg’s 2009 nominee for Most Outstanding Lineman Brendon LaBatte and Luke Fritz flank veteran centre Ibrahim Khan. All are coming back healthy which should put the Blue Bombers in a good position to have a good campaign on the ground in 2010. The one concern for Winnipeg is that outside of backup Ryan Donnelly, they have very little experienced depth.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats

The emergence of DeAndra Cobb certainly played a big factor in Hamilton’s success in making the playoffs last year. The offensive line, although doing a good job in opening holes for the talented running back, struggled to keep their quarterback upright, surrendering 42 sacks in the course of the season. Marwin Hage is one of the better centres in the league and continues to be a strong presence for the Tiger-Cats. Next to him, veterans George Hudson and Peter Dyakowski were the primary guards, but will face competition in training camp from former first overall draft pick Simeon Rottier. Jason Jimenez, signed from the BC Lions, will almost certainly start at one tackle position, while Alexander Gauthier is the favourite to start on the opposite side. Based on the off-season moves made by the team’s management, Hamilton should expect an improved offensive line in 2010.

Toronto Argonauts

Like every other aspect of the Argos, the offensive line needed just a little bit of a tweaking for the 2010 season. Who are we kidding, the entire team was awful last year, but that does not mean that all of the players were bad. First, the bad news. The Argos surrendered an astonishing 55 quarterbacks sacks in 2009, more than double the amount of league leading Winnipeg. They spent their first pick, second overall, on Joe Eppele, who will compete for a starting position in training camp. As previously mentioned, not all of the linemen dressing for the Argos had terrible seasons. Guard Taylor Robertson and centre Dominic Picard had decent seasons. Veteran Rob Murphy is also a capable tackle. Regardless of the individual play of certain players, the Argos offensive line will need to be much better as a group in 2010 if the team wants to compete.

Montreal Alouettes

Bryan Chiu could be the best known lineman in the CFL. The 13 year veteran is nearing the twilight of a phenomenal career, but no one is turning off the lights in Montreal quite yet on Anthony Calvillo’s centre. Led by Chiu, the offensive line powered the Alouettes to a season where they were found at the top of most offensive categories. Flanking Chiu, veteran non-imports Scott Flory and Paul Lambert continue to be two of the best guards in the CFL. Josh Bourke and Jeff Perrett round out the line by filling the tackle spots. The Alouettes, for the most part, have an all Canadian offensive line, which allows greater roster flexibility in other positions. They have been able to maintain this by drafting well, which they continued to do in 2010 by adding Kristian Matte to their stable although Matte is for the moment with the Houston Texans in the NFL. Dylan Steenbergen, Luc Brodeur-Jourdain, and Andrew Woodruff all provide additional non-import depth with tackle Skip Seagraves is the only veteran import lineman on the roster.

Analysis

Montreal and Winnipeg probably have the best lines in the league, however the Eskimos certainly can compete with both teams. Montreal’s cohesion and depth certainly has to give them the nod as the class of the league. At the other end of the spectrum, Toronto simply did not do enough in the off-season to address what was an obvious weakness in 2009. Hamilton should be improved, while the BC Lions and Calgary Stampeders seem to be offensive lines with more questions than answers heading into training camp. When it comes to the offensive line, Edmonton certainly has one that can make a push to be one of the better ones in the league this year.

 

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One response to this post.

  1. @ the gutless wonder who posted the comment.

    Thanks for reading my post. I put my opinion out there and occasionally make mistakes. I must admit that I didn’t proof this article as closely as I should have and have made corrections to the names that I misspelled. This is not a profession for me. Encouraging discussion among Eskimos fans and to a certain extent, fans of the CFL in general is the goal.

    If you want to post a comment here, go ahead, but keep it clean. Using foul language only proves your true level of intelligence.

    Reply

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