November 24, 2016

Ottawa D-line not focused on Stampeders’ injuries

Dave Chidley/CFL.ca

A patched up Calgary Stampeders’ offensive line on Grey Cup Sunday might, in theory, provide an advantage for the Ottawa REDBLACKS’ defensive line but at least a couple of men along that line say they’re not counting on it.

“Maybe, maybe not,” said defensive end Arnaud Gascon-Nadon when asked if Calgary question marks might be helpful to the REDBLACKS’ pass rush and run stop schemes. “I don’t think we’re gonna base our game plan around that. We’re just gonna play our game. Our fast game. Just gonna focus on us this week.”

In the world of football, just focusing on yourself and what your own team hopes to accomplish is fairly routine procedure, at least when it comes to public comments. Still, one can’t help but wonder if an opponent’s injury troubles – especially those among units that famously need consistency and familiarity in order to thrive – might just be met with a smirk.

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Dave Chidley/CFL.ca

Arnaud Gascon-Nadon says he will be focusing on his own team’s game plan in preparation for Sunday’s Grey Cup (CFL.ca)

The Stampeders may be starting a fairly raw rookie on their offensive line when the two teams clash in the 104th Grey Cup presented by Shaw.

There is a suspicion that Ucambre Williams – who was last in Calgary’s lineup in September – will be on that line, with veterans Pierre Lavertu, Cam Thorn and Brad Erdos all being placed in the “unlikely” category. Erdos started the Western Final at right guard, while Thorn was acting as insurance in that game and Lavertu’s spot at centre was being taken up by veteran Spencer Wilson.

“They’re all pros,” said Ottawa defensive tackle Zach Evans, giving Calgary’s constantly injury-plagued offensive line great respect.

“They’ve all been here, they’ve done it. And they’ve got a full week of preparation to understand how each other plays and play together for three practices plus a walk through.”

Led by the West’s nominee for outstanding lineman, left tackle Derek Dennis, the Stampeders’ O-line was tops in the CFL in 2016, no matter who was in and who was out. They allowed just 20 quarterback sacks during the regular season and then none during last Sunday’s Western Final against the BC Lions, despite being forced to use defensive lineman Quinn Smith on the other side of the ball, something the third-year Stampeder has done before with great success.

So the point is: The Stamps have a reputation for getting it done no matter what. Even with a rookie quite possibly going in, Evans doesn’t really think the REDBLACKS will be provided with any ready-made breaches in quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell’s security system.

“The learning curve is a lot shorter than people would think,” he said.

Besides, Evans says, he’s with Gascon-Nadon on the philosophy of preparation.

“We make speculations on who’s gonna be where but we’re really focused on our defence and what we do.”


PHOTO GALLERY: REDBLACKS PRACTICE ON WEDNESDAY

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On that front, Gascon-Nadon – who missed a good chunk of the middle of the season before returning from the injured list in October – feels that Ottawa’s linemen are really just now starting to feel their oats.

“We like playing together,” he said. With Gascon-Nadon at one end, Connor Williams at the other (with Andrew Marshall backing up) and with Evans and Moton Hopkins starting on the inside, a little bit of a groove has been laid down.

“We know each other. We’re developing new things we work on, so I think we’re getting a better feel, everyday, of who we are and we can do it even faster every day,” said Gascon-Nadon.

Evans is in agreement, adding that Ottawa’s four-man rotation on the interior is allowing for fresh legs and lots of jump.

“It honestly took a while,” he said of building D-line cohesion. “But I think everything is coming together just at the right time.”

The addition of Cleyon Laing, the former Toronto Argonaut all-star who signed with the REDBLACKS three weeks ago after returning from a tryout with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, is a difference-maker, even though Laing has played just two games; one being the Eastern Final.

“Cleyon brings a whole different aspect to our defensive line,” said Evans, pointing to the inside lineman rotation that also includes Laing, Hopkins and Landon Cohen. “We’ve got four rotating D tackles now. We’re all fresh, we’re powerful, we’re healthy.”

“If we do our stuff right, it’ll be tough on them no matter who’s in there, no matter the personnel,” said Evans.

Which means the men of the Ottawa REDBLACKS’ defensive line are perfectly content to zero in on what they can control as opposed to what the other guys can.