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Stampeders' offensive line prepares for Roughriders

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The Canadian Press
10/21/2013 6:31:47 PM
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CALGARY - The Calgary Stampeders offensive line made room for Jon Cornish to run for 175 yards and four touchdowns the last time the Saskatchewan Roughriders visited McMahon Stadium.

Then Calgary's offensive linemen held CFL sack leader Alex Hall to zero sacks when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers came to town earlier this month.

Can they continue their success Saturday, now that Hall is a Roughrider following his trade from Winnipeg?

A 42-27 loss to Calgary on Aug. 9 was an anomaly for a Saskatchewan defensive line that was talented enough before Hall's arrival Oct. 6.

Saskatchewan is tied for second in the CFL in sacks with Montreal and ranks second in stopping the rush. The Roughriders' defence contributed to 28 points scored off turnovers in a 35-14 win over the B.C. Lions last Saturday.

"Their front four, front five now that Alex Hall has joined the club, they're great run defenders and pass rushers," Calgary head coach John Hufnagel said Monday following the Stampeders' team photo.

"It's going to be a big challenge for our offence to be able to run the ball efficiently and effectively and protect our passers."

Calgary (13-3) and Saskatchewan (11-5) have already secured home playoff dates, so it's now a matter of who hosts the division semifinal Nov. 10 or the final Nov. 17.

Calgary can secure first in the West Division with a win or a tie Saturday. Saskatchewan can extend the race for first place to the last week of the regular season with a victory.

Calgary and Saskatchewan are 1-1 against each other this season, so Saturday's victor would get the higher playoff seed in the event they're tied in points at the conclusion of the regular season.

"Truthfully, I'm very pleased this game means something for both teams," Hufnagel said. "It'll get us playoff ready."

Calgary's Charleston Hughes has pulled even with Hall for the league lead in sacks (15). Stampeder defensive end Cordarro Law is second with 12.

But Saskatchewan's John Chick, the CFL's defensive player of the year in 2009, Tearrius George, Jermaine McElveen and Ricky Foley can be hard on opposing offensive lines with a combined 29 quarterback tackles between them.

While acknowledging Saskatchewan's prowess on the defensive line, the Stampeders aren't prepared to say the Roughrider front four with Hall will be their toughest test this season.

"I think Saskatchewan's defensive line is a huge strength for them," Stampeder tackle Edwin Harrison said. "Any time you can add a player like Alex Hall to your unit, you get an immediate upgrade as a unit.

"I don't want to say we don't look at our opponent, but every game is a big game. Every game we have somebody who is a quality opponent.

"It will definitely be a huge test for us, an important test for us, but it will be a huge test and a huge game for our team because it's the next game. Make no mistakes, this team, it doesn't matter who we play."

Calgary leads the CFL in fewest sacks against and most rushing yards, a testament to the offensive line's performance.

They've done it with a rotating cast of characters, because the offensive line wasn't exempt from the injuries besetting the Stampeders at almost every position this season.

Harrison began this season on the nine-game injured list because of a lingering knee injury. The latest ailment is left tackle Stanley Bryant, who is questionable for Saturday's game with a knee injury.

Right tackle Dan Federkeil moves back into the lineup after missing five games with a groin injury, but right guard Dimitri Tsoumpas remains sidelined with a concussion. J'Michael Deane and Spencer Wilson have rotated in where needed on the right side.

Rookie centre Brett Jones and guard Jon Gott are the only two linemen who have managed to stay in games week to week. Harrison says a lot of homework goes into adapting to personnel changes almost every week.

"Every guy in our group does an outstanding job of preparing themselves to play each and every week," he said. "I don't think a lot of people know how much time we put in, not only on the practice field, but in the meeting room and at home.

"As an offensive line, if everybody in that room isn't on the same page, we will not be successful."

How significant is Calgary's containment of Hall on Oct. 5 and the dismantling of the 'Riders defensive line in August heading into Saturday's game? Not very, offensive line coach Mike Gibson said.

"Those games didn't define who we are," he said. "Our body of work is defined by who we are. They were part of it no doubt.

"We're first in the league in rushing, we're first in the league in the least sacks and that wouldn't happen with just two games. We see good defences week in and week out and we just have to be prepared to play."

Jon Cornish (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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