Amer­i­can mus­cle

Esks beef up their O-line with im­ports

Ottawa Sun - - SPORTS - GERRY gmod­de­jonge@postmedia.com

The Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos aren’t mess­ing around when it comes to the pro­tec­tion of quar­ter­back Mike Reilly.

So when the in­jury bug that be­gan feed­ing on the ros­ter on the sec­ond day of train­ing camp de­cided to turn its at­ten­tion to an of­fen­sive line that has now lost four play­ers in the past three weeks, the team didn’t hes­i­tate to change the ra­tio to three Amer­i­cans on the unit in­stead of the usual two.

Against the Ot­tawa Red­Blacks on Thurs­day, Ed­mon­ton’s Amer­i­can tackle po­si­tions will see Joel Figueroa re­turn to the left side af­ter sit­ting out last week with in­jury, and off-season ac­qui­si­tion Colin Kelly come in off the six-game in­jured list to take over the right side for the re­cently re­leased Tony Wash­ing­ton.

D’An­thony Batiste will start his sec­ond game of the season at guard, a po­si­tion typ­i­cally played by Cana­di­ans, af­ter fill­ing in at tackle last week.

“I get to show a lit­tle ver­sa­til­ity, but the more you can do, ob­vi­ously, the more value Amer­i­can D’An­thony Batiste will be start­ing at guard for the Eski­mos tonight, a po­si­tion usu­ally manned by Cana­di­ans. you add to your­self,” said Batiste, the Eski­mos start­ing right tackle in each of the past three sea­sons, in­clud­ing the 2015 Grey Cup cham­pi­onship, be­fore his con­tract ran out in Fe­bru­ary and he slipped into free agency.

But the na­tive of Marksville, La., sud­denly found him­self back in the mix af­ter for­mer Red­blacks as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager Brock Sun­der­land re­placed Ed Her­vey as GM in Ed­mon­ton. The only catch was Batiste, a 34-year-old vet­eran of 12 years of pro foot­ball, spent the first five games of the season on the Eski­mos prac­tice ros­ter.

“I en­joyed just be­ing back out there with my guys, be­ing held ac­count­able and be­ing a guy that’s de­pended upon again,” he said. “Next man up, I stood up to the chal­lenge and came through clean.”

The same can’t be said for left guard Danny Groulx and cen­tre Justin Sorensen, who were in­jured in last week’s win over the Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats. That leaves guard Matt O’Don­nell as the lone Cana­dian starter left from an orig­i­nal group that saw all five line­men start the first four games of the season. Univer­sity of Al­berta Golden Bears prod­uct David Beard is mak­ing his first CFL start in place of Sorensen.

Toss in the re­lease of Amer­i­can tackle Tony Wash­ing­ton ear­lier this week and it all amounts to a much dif­fer­ent-look­ing group in front of Reilly than the one that lined up just three weeks ago.

“It is, but we have a good group of guys, we’ve been to­gether for a while,” Batiste said. “Guys are just step­ping in and play­ing their roles and you get to see who re­ally took their men­tal prepa­ra­tion to heart the weeks they weren’t in.

“They’re di­al­ing it in now and when­ever their num­ber’s called, they’re be­ing ac­count­able and they’re guys that we can de­pend on.”

The flip-side of start­ing three Amer­i­cans up front means the Eski­mos will only be start­ing two Amer­i­can re­ceivers, wide-out Vidal Hazel­ton and slot­back Bryant Mitchell, down from the four they be­gan the season with.

In­stead, Cory Wat­son will be joined by fel­low Cana­di­ans Chris Get­zlaf and Shamawd Cham­bers, who is mak­ing his de­but in his sec­ond stint in green and gold af­ter com­ing off the six-game in­jured list.

While the Red­blacks sit sec­ond over­all in quar­ter­back pres­sures be­hind the Eski­mos, Ot­tawa’s de­fence has had trou­ble fin­ish­ing on the pass rush and are in the bot­tom half of the league in sacks.

“We need to make sure we give them some dif­fer­ent looks too,” Red­blacks head coach Rick Camp­bell said. “I know O-line is a tough po­si­tion to play and when you have mov­ing parts, there’s a lot of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that needs to go on.

“So hope­fully, we can give him some dif­fer­ent looks and give them some­thing to talk about and think about.”

IAN KUCERAK/POSTMEDIA NET­WORK

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