An intricate battle of strength and wits is waged in the trenches of each CFL game, one that might go unnoticed or unappreciated by many fans.
When B.C. Lions' quarterback Travis Lulay calls a play in the huddle it's centre Angus Reid's job to make sure the offensive line understands the required blocking assignments.
That strategy can change suddenly when Reid gets over the ball and takes a look at the defensive alignment. If a linebacker shifts to another side of the field, if the safety suddenly moves up to the line showing blitz, Reid has to bark out orders changing the blocking scheme. This can result in more yelling and finger pointing than a Kardashian family dinner.
"I have to recognize what the front is,'' explained the 12-year veteran. "Depending on the front, we are going to block in a certain way.
"You'll see me before the snap. I'll have my head turned around yelling at the running back, yelling at the guys.''
The defensive linemen have the advantage of being able to move. Once an offensive lineman takes a stance he can't even twitch without drawing a flag.
|Prepping for the Argos|
"Toronto schemes a little bit for the team so they will come out a little different every game. We'll prepare for what they did to us, we'll prepare for what they've done to other teams, and we'll also have to prepare for what we think they might do to us.''
- Angus Reid on preparing for Kevin Huntley (above) and the Argos front this weekend.
"For the most part we are static,'' Reid said with a smile. "But we have the advantage, ideally, of knowing who we are blocking. They don't know who is blocking them.''
Before settling in his stance Reid will point and shout out orders. In a noisy stadium, with the game on the line, it can be a challenge for the tackles to hear.
"It's tough,'' said left tackle Ben Archibald, a five-year veteran in his second season with the Lions. "You are under pressure and there's a buzzer coming. When the snap happens you are playing ball and any calls after that aren't going to affect anything.''
Just when the offensive line is satisfied with its blocking scheme, the defence can shift again. With the time clock ticking to zero, and Lulay trying to get the play off, the blocking roles can change again.
"We could change how we are blocking a play three times within six seconds,'' said Reid.
Even though Reid has the final say on blocking he does get input from the guards and tackles.
"We will alert him to things, like if we see personnel or alignment changes that we're not expecting,'' said Archibald, the CFL's top lineman in 2010. "But it all starts with him. Even if he can't get a call out, we're sticking with what he calls.
"We win or lose as a group.''
Sometimes Lulay won't like what he sees from the defence and changes the play at the line. This can demand a totally different blocking scheme.
"Sometimes if we are (planning) a certain play, then we are all looking'' at the defence, said Archibald. "We know coming up to the line we are probably going to audible it.
"We change our cadence, make it a little longer, so the quarterback has time to get into that without running out of time.''
The Lions looked nearly flawless in last week's 43-10 victory over the Montreal Alouettes to improve their record to a CFL-best 7-3. Lulay threw four touchdown passes, B.C. massed 457 yards of offence, and the offensive line allowed just one sack.
It wasn't as simple as it looked, said Reid.
"Some defences move around more than others,'' he said. "Montreal moves around a lot.''
Doing adjustments on the fly while making sure everyone is reading from the same blocking script can be a challenge when playing at home. The problems and chances for mistakes are magnified on the road.
"Defences that move around a lot always have the benefit of being at home,'' said Reid. "Communication can make things very easy or very difficult.
"If you have communication, you can talk it through and figure it out. If you don't have communication there ends up being guessing. When you have guessing on the offensive line you are going to have seepage and holes and things that just don't look right.''
When dealing with a hostile, screaming crowd, the lineman will sometimes revert to hand signals.
"Sometimes we talk in code, sometimes we don't,'' said massive right tackle Jovan Olafioye, last year's West nominee as outstanding lineman.
The defending Grey Cup champions will have the home-field advantage Saturday when they host the Toronto Argonauts at B.C. Place Stadium. The Lions got a taste of how tenacious the Toronto defence can be when they managed a 18-9 win over the Argos back on Aug. 6.
|2||Blue Bombers||DE||Mulumba, Andy|
|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|