Esks hope Kabongo can be an O-line stalwart

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:46 AM ET

Patrick Kabongo can handle almost anything thrown in his direction.

At six-foot-six inches and 340 pounds, that is a pretty easy assumption to make.

But with 14-year veteran Chris Morris retiring, can Kabongo handle the task of being the starting right tackle on the Edmonton Eskimos' offensive line this season?

Considering he has only played a handful of games in his two-year professional career, that's one of the biggest questions as the Esks open main training camp this weekend.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize the Green and Gold are legitimate Grey Cup contenders this year if quarterback Ricky Ray stays healthy. But if a steamrolling defensive end beats Kabongo and crushes Ray in the pocket, all bets on the Eskimos are off.

So given the importance of the job ahead, the No. 1 contender on the right tackle depth chart became a hard-core student this winter.

In fact, Kabongo spent six days a week over four months in the classroom of offensive line coach Bill Macdermott.

'SIX YEARS TO MAKE UP'

"We probably have six years to make up," said Macdermott. "You figure five in college and he was completely mishandled when he was in Ottawa."

The 26-year-old Zaire native was a stalwart defensive lineman at the University of Nebraska before eventually having a brief cup of coffee with the Ottawa Renegades in 2004.

He has only played in parts of seven games since turning pro.

"First of all, we wanted to get him fundamentally sound (this winter) and secondly, give him a package (of techniques) that he can take into the game without stopping to think - 'Do I step with my right foot first and where does my left foot go and where do my hands go?' " explained Macdermott, who's entering his 13th season coaching the Edmonton line.

More thankful than you could imagine for the tutoring sessions this winter, Kabongo firmly believes he's ready to be Ray's newest full-time bodyguard.

"I am going to play very well - I am the Master of Disaster," he stated. "I know it is my time.

"I believe I have been blessed by God and I have a gift.

"I know there is a fine line between being cocky and confident - and I think I am very confident."

TON OF POTENTIAL

Head coach Danny Maciocia definitely believes there is a ton of potential within the non-import's massive frame.

The boss actually offers very rarely heard hype.

"Patrick Kabongo is someone who could play 10-12 years in the CFL, but it wouldn't surprise me if a year from now he is south of the border (playing in the NFL)," stated Maciocia.

But professor Macdermott - the most qualified expert of the bunch - isn't making any bold predictions about his pupil.

"If I could tell you (how he'll perform), it would be wonderful," said Macdermott. "But you never really know until the bullets get flying."

With camp starting tomorrow, Kabongo will get his first taste of live action in two weeks when the Eskimos play the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Taylor Field in the first preseason game on June 3.


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