HAMILTON — They are usually the biggest, most generous players on any football team. Offensive linemen put their well being on the line every week to pave the way for star running backs, while also being charged with the task of keeping franchise quarterbacks clean and undisturbed – often with little recognition.
Hamilton’s front line on offence has played at a consistently high level so far in 2011, surrendering just 10 sacks through eight games – the second least among all CFL units.
“We have a lot of experience together and the continuity has helped us a lot,” Ticats centre Marwan Hage said after a humid and sticky practice at Ivor Wynne.
The big eaters in front of quarterback Kevin Glenn allowed just 26 sacks in 2010, a league low, and they are on pace to give up even less this season.
“It’s about pride, we take pride in what we do and we feel like we’re one of the best units in this league,” Hage said.
The Colorado product is responsible for calling out the blocking assignments at the line of scrimmage and making sure his unit is in the best possible protection on any given snap. Hage has almost seen it all in his eight years in the league, but he says that he had a good teacher back when he was just breaking into the league.
Carl Coulter was playing in his 14th and final season in the CFL, meanwhile Hage was just a green rookie looking to make his first CFL roster in 2004, after being drafted 14th overall in the Canadian College draft the same year. Coulter told Hage if he took all of the centre reps in practice he would teach and coach the pro game to the young lineman.
“If I didn’t complain and moan he would teach me,” he said. “It was a good trade off for me back then and I’m very glad I did it.”
Now Hage is the veteran and he has taken to teaching the young Ticats offensive lineman. He has helped fellow line mate, and rookie, Brian Simmons speed up his development.
“We’ve worked together. I help him step-by-step — you can’t ask a young guy to sit down and breakdown a whole defence,” Hage said. “Brian is a young guy who wants to listen and learn. I have started working with him to start knowing what is going to happen, the key is when the game slows down you see what’s happening and you’re one step ahead of what’s going on.”
“If you know what blitz is coming then you can set yourself in a position so you’re not surprised.”
With Simmons playing like a veteran, the Ticats boast an offensive line that is high on talent and experience — 23 years of CFL experience among the starting-five to be exact.
“Even when you have to work in someone new like Brian Simmons, who’s a rookie, he’s still playing great football. I think it’s because we have a good culture, good team leadership,” Peter Dyakowski said.
Hage, Dyakowski, Simeon Rottier and Jason Jimenez are in their second full season together. In the pro game with players coming and going that is a tribute to the talent and hard-working attitude the line upholds.
“It helps that we’ve been playing with each other for so long. We have a good culture in the meeting room and we do well with non-verbal communication, kind of a sixth sense of how the other guy is going to react on the field,” Dyakowski said.
Another reason why Glenn has had plenty time to pick apart opposing defences in 2011 is Avon Cobourne, who is heralded for his pass protection ability.
“As a unit we work with the running backs in pass protection. He sits in on our meetings and we work on a lot of things in our protections,” Dyakowski said.
“Avon is my extra lineman. He does a great job, I never have to worry when we make our calls and there is an extra free guy that’s dedicated to Avon, I know he’s blocked,” Hage added.
The offensive line will look to continue their success against the Alouettes on Labour Day. In the first meeting of the season with Montreal, Hage and co. did not allow one Alouette to take down Glenn, and a repeat performance in week nine will go a long way towards a victory.