When Tim Bakker looked over at Ricky Ray last Saturday, a smile came across his face.
The Edmonton Eskimos field general was standing on the sideline with barely a speck of dirt on his jersey. For an offensive lineman, particularly the centre, a clean-as-a-whistle quarterback is the sign of a job well done.
It may seem like down-and-dirty duty but there is actually a lot more to Bakker's job than just brute strength.
"The average fan doesn't realize how complicated it is and how much actual talking there is there," said Bakker.
"If you're not a smart o-lineman, you're not going to last very long. I've always taken pride in the mental side of the game. That's one encouraging thing about our group is that we're pretty smart."
In a season of on-field adjustment for the Eskimos, there are changes for Bakker off it as well.
He returns to the Eskimos - the team that selected him third overall in the 2000 draft - via an off-season trade with Hamilton. That deal, though, landed the Tabbies Jason Maas, best man at Bakker's wedding.
With brain power to match his talents in the trenches, Bakker assumes his place on the unit hit with off-season retirements of Chris Morris, Bruce Beaton and Kevin Lefsrud.
Bakker has picked up some tricks of the trade throughout the years. The trick now is convincing the Eskimos fans that the revamped o-line can get the job done and keep Ray's jersey from getting dirtied up.
"We're going to have a few growing pains along the way, but I think we're going to be pretty good," said Bakker, who was traded by the Esks to B.C. in 2003 before making a free-agent move to Hamilton a year later.
"We won't score points unless we do our jobs and you don't win too many games without scoring points. We're all professional and we all want to make sure the club wins and we all want to take pride in our jobs.
"Some of the guys may not have as much playing experience but I think this year is going to be a pleasant surprise."
Head coach Danny Maciocia also has a strong belief in the crew surrounding Bakker. And if there's one thing Maciocia is tired of talking about, it's whether or not the inexperienced offensive line will stand up under the pressure.
"Give them an opportunity. Let's try that. Let's try to give them an opportunity," said Maciocia. "And an opportunity doesn't define itself as being one game. Give them a chance.
"Last year we had two veterans and we were ready to run them out of town. Two years ago we had the same two veterans and we were still ready to run them out of town. We constantly have a way of picking on these guys for the wrong reasons.
"Let's give these guys a chance and if they come up short and fall on their faces then we'll make changes. But give them a chance."
LATE HITS: With Donald Brady out of action for at least a week, the Eskimos will have some tinkering to do in the defensive backfield. Among the possible moves are switching Reggie Durden from corner to half or sliding Shannon Garrett from linebacker back into his more familiar role. "I have a pretty good idea," smiled Maciocia without indicating what direction he'll take.