May 27, 2006

Kabongo a big question mark

Energetic o-lineman still adjusting to switch from defensive side

By Vicki Hall,
Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON – Patrick Kabongo is the resident friendly giant on the Edmonton Eskimos offensive line — a six-foot-six, 340-pound ball of energy paid to protect quarterback Ricky Ray.

Deeply religious, Kabongo is blessed with all the natural skills of a professional offensive lineman. He’s definitely got size. His foot speed is incredible. He’s strong, smart and driven to succeed.

But, in spite of all those gifts, Kabongo is still a very big — make that gigantic — question mark for the Eskimos at right tackle in place of the retired Chris Morris.

“Patrick is doing OK,” said head coach Danny Maciocia. “He’s got his moments. Up and down. Up and down. Down and up. But he’s fighting. He’s got all the tools in the toolbox. All he has to do is get it done.

“The last thing we want is like Tim Allen in (TV’s) Tool Time, where he’s got all the tools, but he keeps screwing up. We don’t want to that to happen with Patrick. He’s got an abundance of talent, and if he puts it all together, watch out.”

No one can question Kabongo’s desire to put it all together. After celebrating the Grey Cup, he flew to Sri Lanka for a three-week volunteer mission to help that country rebuild from the tsunami.

From there, he spent five days a week with offensive line coach Bill Macdermott learning the tricks of the trade. Most offensive linemen have played the position since high school. Kabongo switched over from the defensive line just last year.

That inexperience showed last season in a handful of appearances by Kabongo at tackle. He stepped offside at inopportune times, and his temper had flags flying from the officials.

“He’s got to channel all that energy,” Maciocia said. “Its got to be positive. It’s got to be work-related. You can’t just be jumping around and goofing around. If he channels his energy, it will be good for us.”

The 26-year-old knows he needs to channel his energy into perfecting his technique and the finer details of blocking. And he understands the importance of mellowing down his larger-than-life personality to fit in with the rest of the bodyguards up front.

“I’ve always had a lot of energy,” he said. “I’ve just always been that way. You’ve really got to get the most out of every single day. I believe in maximizing the moment.

“Life is happening now, not later.”

The Esks need Kabongo to develop into a steady starter now, not later, with three gaping holes on the line due to the retirements of Morris, Bruce Beaton and Kevin Lefsrud.

“We’re lining him up with our first unit and saying go out there and do it,” Maciocia said. “He’s on his own. So I bet, at the end of our camp here, he’ll have it down pat.”

Kabongo cuts an imposing figure, and his brash attitude can rub some people the wrong way. But his roommate, receiver Robert Leblanc, says the large fellow is kind and giving to the core.

“He’s big and loud,” Leblanc said. “But he’s a great guy. His heart is in the right place. He means well, but he’s a lot to handle at times.”

“The other guys are helping me a lot,” Kabongo said. “I just try to get better with the rest of the guys on the offensive line. It’s a mental thing for me. Before every play, I really have to think about what I’m going to do.”