O-line or oh, oh line?
With three of last year's starters gone, questions abound about pivot protection
By JONATHAN HUNTINGTON, EDMONTON SUN
Joe McGrath is aware of the panic cries.
The third-year Edmonton Eskimo knows people are worried - if not petrified - about the state of the club's offensive line with the retirements of veteran starters Chris Morris, Bruce Beaton and Kevin Lefsrud.
But the young left tackle has a message for everyone in Eskimoland: relax.
"I think we are going to do great," he said of the new-look offensive line this season.
"Everyone is nervous and asking: 'Can Ricky Ray hold up (behind) a revamped offensive line?'
"And I think, without a doubt, (the answer is) yes."
Head coach Danny Maciocia is also confident his younger O-line will stand the test this season.
"Some people are afraid of change," said Maciocia, "and God forbid you move something or change something because it drives them bananas.
"In our case, we embrace change.
"There is going to be a transition period - but we still feel we are going to be competitive."
But after an off-season of predictions - from dire thoughts in the stands to positive talk in the locker-room - we'll soon find out who is right and wrong.
With training camp starting tomorrow, the Green and Gold are two weeks from their first pre-season game and one month to the regular-season opener in Calgary.
Here is the offensive line depth chart for Day 1 of camp:
Gone: Bruce Beaton
Contenders: Joe McGrath (non-import) - No. 1 on the depth chart; Dwayne Morgan (import)
A starter at right guard last year, McGrath is being asked to move to the outside.
"I think that (left tackle) is his natural position," said Maciocia.
Morgan and Maciocia have a history from the Montreal Alouettes. But being an import at 32 years of age, he faces a tough challenge beating McGrath.
Incumbent: Dan Comiskey (NI)
Unless he suffers an injury, the nine-year CFL veteran will be the leader of the line this year.
"Comiskey is one the premier guards in the CFL," said Maciocia.
Gone: Kevin Lefsrud
Contenders: Tim Bakker (NI); Rhett McLane (NI); Mark Shantz (NI)
Entering camp there isn't a No. 1 notation beside anyone according to Maciocia, but Bakker has more experience, having played nearly 100 CFL games.
McLane has dressed for just three games in his career. Shantz didn't play in his rookie season.
Bakker is returning to Edmonton after being part of the Jason Maas deal last fall.
McLane might be facing a make-or-break season with Edmonton.
"Coming out (of school in 2003), he was one of the better offensive linemen in the country, but this is a very important year," said Maciocia.
"The first year he had an ACL injury, which we understood.
"The second year was really his first year. So, this is the year that we think he can do the things we expect him to do."
Gone: Joe McGrath (to left tackle)
Contenders: Raleigh Roundtree (I); D'Anthony Batiste (I); Glen Carson (NI); Grieg Lonchamps (NI)
There isn't a designated No. 1 contender, but the Esks can afford to start an import on the line - and Roundtree might be the answer with several years of NFL experience between San Diego and Arizona.
Carson is the wild card. A starter in 2004, he dropped 30 pounds before camp last year because of sickness and never regained his spot.
"It was a forgotten year for Glen (last year) and a forgotten year for us," said O-line coach Bill Macdermott.
Now at 288 pounds, Carson will fight for his old job.
Gone: Chris Morris
Contenders: Patrick Kabongo (NI) - No. 1; Roundtree; McLane
The job is Kabongo's to win or lose.
Coming Tomorrow: Training camp preview