Forgotten men

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

They had been battered, bruised and abused earlier this season.

They were too old on one side. Too young on another. And fans were calling for a change.

Now nobody talks about them.

That means they are doing their job.

The offensive line is a big reason why the Edmonton Eskimos are off to Vancouver to play the B.C. Lions in the Western final on Sunday.

And while the focus has been on other members of the Eskimos offence lately - mainly the quarterback situation - the offensive line has quietly gone about its business.

"That's usually the case with offensive linemen," said Eskimos head coach Danny Maciocia. "It's unfortunate that it comes down to that, but ask any quarterback or any receiver, and they have an appreciation for what the O-line means to the team."

Without the outstanding play of Bruce Beaton, Dan Comiskey, Kevin Lefsrud, Joe McGrath, Chris Morris and Sandy Annunziata on Sunday, there would not have been a second-half comeback.

In the past four games the Eskimos have allowed just five sacks. The team is averaging 114.5 yards rushing.

PASS PROTECTION

And more importantly, the line's ability to pass-protect gave quarterback Jason Maas plenty of time to mount an impressive second-half comeback against the Calgary Stampeders in the West semifinal.

All seven need to come up big again this Sunday against the Lions.

"They are playing with an attitude right now," said Maciocia. "Every week they are asking us to give them the opportunity to come off the ball. They want to be the hammer and not the nail."

Ask any offensive linemen and they'll tell you that they would rather run-block than pass-block on opponent.

Running blocking allows offensive linemen to tee up on defensive linemen and linebackers.

Lately the offensive line has had plenty of opportunities to smack an opponent.

"That coincides with us bringing in Troy Davis," said Maciocia. "Troy gives us more balance. And with his in the lineup, defensive linemen now have to respect the run."

The acquisition of Davis is not the only thing, which has helped turn the offensive line's game around. It's no coincidence the unit got stronger with the return of Comiskey.

The six-foot-five, 305-pound Windsor, Ont., native was reacquired by the Eskimos in October from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Prior to being traded to Hamilton for defensive lineman Joe Mont ford in the off-season, Comiskey had spent three seasons with the Eskimos. In 2003 he was named a West division all-star.

"He was the final piece of the puzzle," Maciocia said. "More importantly to me, he's one of the premier guards in the CFL and he knows what it's like to be an Eskimo."

DAVIS AND COMISKEY

The arrival of Davis and Comiskey allowed the Eskimos to change their offensive philosophy. Success in no longer limited to passing well.

"We sat down with the line and asked the guys for a commitment to change the identity of our offence, which we have," Maciocia said.

Offensively, the Eskimos have gone from a team struggling to run the ball, to one, which has gained over 100 yards on the ground in four of the last five games.

In that stretch, the only time the Eskimos failed to gain 100 or more yards on the ground was the 19-18 win over the Lions in the second-last game of the regular season. They only had 96 that night.

Previous to that, the Eskimos had only earned 100 yards on the ground twice their first 14 games.

Now heading into Vancouver, success not only depends on the Eskimos' ability to run the ball, but also to keep Lions defensive end Brent Johnson away from the quarterback.

Johnson led the league in sacks with 16.

"You have to pay special attention to someone who led the league in sacks," said Maciocia.

"But there are different ways of doing that. You can run away from his side of the ball, double-team him, or even run right at him at times and try to wear him down."


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