EDMONTON --The 2013 season is one the Eskimos would soon like to forget.
In addition to missing the Grey Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2010, the Eskimos featured an offensive line that gave up 60 sacks - the second highest total in the CFL.
The alarming number was a notable concern heading into the off-season, and the team made it a priority to make changes to improve the front line.
The importance of the offensive line is sometimes overlooked, but quarterback Mike Reilly made it clear how crucial it is for any football team.
“Football is won and lost in the trenches,” Reilly told reporters.
“You hear it all the time but it’s true. If you don’t have time to execute the play in the backfield, to run or pass, you can’t do anything in three down football.”
New head coach Chris Jones knows that his team needs to improve on the offensive line in 2014, and is looking over film of the unit with a fine-toothed-comb.
“I came in and re-watched all the film from yesterday just to look specifically at the offensive line,” said Jones.
It would seem like the team had a guideline heading into the off-season. They wanted to get bigger on the line and it’s noticeable during training camp.
Offensive line coach Jonathan Himebauch commented on the stature of his linemen.
“I would say, when we come out to practice, we're not going to need a whole lot of sunscreen. They're huge. They're like human eclipses."
To put it in perspective, the Eskimos have 13 offensive linemen at camp, eight-of-13 are at least 6-feet-6 or taller and nine are over 310 pounds.
Even their 6-foot-3 quarterback, who took his fair share of hits last year, noticed the size of his linemen.
“Well I wouldn’t go anywhere late at night unless I took them with me,” said a chuckling Reilly.
With a new coaching staff, as well as personnel, a change of mentality might help alter the line's fortunes in 2014. A nastiness or a mean streak is something that Himebauch is looking for from his players when they hit the gridiron.
“I don’t think I could ever use it enough. I mean it’s something you want, it’s just a mentality when you buckle up and you step onto the field," he said.
“It’s not just the offensive line, that’s what Chris (Jones) is looking for in this team. It’s a physical sport.”
Himebauch seems to be happy with the players he has to coach. He’s very positive in describing the group, but knows that it isn’t a quick fix and will need time for the players to learn the schemes and feel comfortable on the line.
“What we have noticed is that there are guys a little bit tentative because it’s a new offence, it’s a new coach, it’s a new voice. After they get through that day one, it starts to sink in and they start to understand the expectations,” mentioned Himebauch.
“It’s bringing the effort every single practice and we’re starting to scratch the surface, we aren’t near where we need to be, but I think they understand the type of tempo Chris wants on this team. We are taking baby steps.”
Only time will tell if the group is can rise to the occasion in 2014.
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