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Stamps offensive line rises up to CFL challenge

Calgary Stampeders offensive linemen Justin Lawrence, Shane Bergman and Derek Dennis during practice on Tuesday, July 16, 2019. The Stampeders will take on the Toronto Argonauts this tomorrow at McMahon Stadium. Al Charest / Postmedia
Calgary Stampeders offensive linemen Justin Lawrence, Shane Bergman and Derek Dennis during practice on Tuesday, July 16, 2019. The Stampeders will take on the Toronto Argonauts this tomorrow at McMahon Stadium. Al Charest / Postmedia

A week ago, Bo Levi Mitchell suggested that his offensive line has a tendency to rise to the occasion whenever it has to spend a week hearing about how the opponent’s defensive line is dominant.

In the Labour Day back-to-back, there was all sorts of media chatter about the Edmonton Eskimos d-line.

Once they took the field, the Stamps offensive linemen looked almost entirely untroubled.

Same thing two weeks ago when the Stamps were getting set to face off with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and it seemed like all anyone could talk about was Charleston Hughes and Micah Johnson. Again, when push came to shove, the Stamps o-line stepped up.

Last week, just about everyone was heaping praise on Willie Jefferson and the rest of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers d-line, but when they took the field at McMahon Stadium on Saturday, the Stamps allowed only two sacks and won the battle in the trenches.

“We like challenges, and I think our o-line coach, Pat (DelMonaco), he loves challenges,” said Stampeders centre Ucambre Williams. “Throughout the whole week, he’s preaching to us how they’re basically going to make us look bad and beat us and embarrass us, so we just don’t want to go out like that.

“We rise to it and come together and get the job done.”

The Stampeders are set to square off in a rematch with the Bombers on Friday night in Winnipeg, and they’re well aware that limiting Jefferson & Co. once doesn’t mean it’ll happen a second time.

It’s another big game, though, and if talking about the Bombers d-line is somehow motivating the Stamps offensive linemen to step up their game … well … head coach Dave Dickenson would love it if everyone could keep doing exactly that.

“Let’s talk about their d-line, then,” Dickenson said. “It’s a veteran group, a group that’s stayed together. We had a young group early with Nila (Kasitati) and (Ryan Sceviour) and losing (Brad) Erdos, but I think they’ve matured, and Justin Lawrence, I think, has fit in quite well.

“The rest of the guys are really young, but we think we’ve got some good, young talent. You win or lose with your offensive line. I know your quarterback is important, but he’s so dependent on your front.”

As to whether the Stampeders o-line is rising up to the challenge of playing the league’s most highly-regarded d-lines, there are a couple different ways to look at it.

If that assessment is accurate, it bodes well for what lies ahead.

The Stamps are going to be facing the Bombers or the Riders in the West Division playoffs no matter what, so showing that they can fight-off their top-end d-line talent is encouraging.

Left tackle Derek Dennis, though, looks at the recent performances of his unit in a different way.

He’s not so sure they’re rising up to any opponent’s challenge. Dennis thinks the o-line has just been improving all season and is finally clicking on all cylinders.

“We’re at the point in the season where guys know what they’re doing and feel comfortable with what they’re doing, and it shows in our play,” Dennis said. “I think guys understand what we’re playing for right now. It’s very easy to up your game when there’s a lot of ramifications behind it. Guys have been stepping up to the challenge.”

CLOSED PRACTICE

The Stampeders closed the doors of McMahon Stadium on Wednesday, locking out fans and media and holding a closed practice – every team is allowed to do this once a week.

That means there weren’t exactly a ton of updates regarding several key players.

Dickenson was pretty tight-lipped about who he had available, too, although not nearly as tight-lipped as Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea was in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

“We’ll have a good lineup,” Dickenson said. “There’s no real secrets. We have a team. We’re a team … whoever gets the call has to go play well.”

Stamps cornerback Tre Roberson did speak with the media after practice, and while he couldn’t confirm that he’d be in Friday’s lineup – he’s been recovering from a concussion – he did offer up that he was hopeful.

“That’s my expectation … I want to play,” Roberson said. “I love playing football and want to help this team as much as possible, but if injury prevents it and it’s the best decision for the team to have someone else out there, then that’ll be the decision.”

NOTES

The closed practice means there’s still no word on the availability of Stamps DE Cordarro Law, who went down with an injury in the fourth quarter of last weekend’s game against the Bombers. Missing Law would be a big, big deal … It was extremely windy Wednesday morning and not particularly warm, so it’s possible that the media who cover the Stampeders everyday weren’t raising a huge fuss about having to stay indoors because of the closed practice … All eyes are going to be on the running back position when the Stamps release their roster for Friday’s game on Thursday morning. It feels like there’s some real uncertainty at that position.

daustin@postmedia.com

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Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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