Building Bloc for 'Gades

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

KEMPTVILLE -- The Renegades are forming their own Bloc Quebecois.

Of the 12 offensive linemen they have in camp, four hail from La Belle province (Pascal Cheron, Marc Parenteau, Jean-Francois Roy, Christian Leibl-Cote).

Three others (Val St. Germain, Ibrahim Khan, Mike Sutherland) are from Ottawa and are either perfectly or partly bilingual and another (Samir Chahine) went to McGill University in Montreal.

Chahine's second language is actually Arabic, but at least can claim "un peu" of his French.

All-star centre George Hudson and Americans Reggie Nelson, Steve Burch and Morris Unutoa are the only blockers who do not parlez any francais whatsoever.

"When I've played beside Mike, he has made the calls all in French, and it has helped me a lot," Cheron, a guard, says of the injured Sutherland (broken finger), a centre. "And it's worse for the guys in front of us (on the D-line) because they don't catch a thing."

LED CFL IN SACKS ALLOWED

Of course, Ottawa's entire O-line could be able to converse in five different languages or unable to say a word of anything at all, and it wouldn't matter a lick if it couldn't provide better protection than last year when the Renegades led the CFL in sacks allowed and quarterbacks injured.

Seven of this dozen either played elsewhere or not at all in 2004.

"So far the offensive line is progressing well," said Kani Kauahi, the unit's coach. "The young kids are coming along and getting better every day, and the veterans are working their asses off."

Chachine has missed some practice time with a hamstring problem but is back on the field now, while St. Germain (groin) and Leibl-Cote (knee) are on the sidelines with Sutherland, who is likely lost 3-4 weeks. That paves the way for Roy to make the team out of camp as backup centre.

Meanwhile, despite the injuries, the Renegades are resisting any temptation to lure Chris Burns back. They still have an offer on the table for the original Renegade and 11-year veteran -- one that's believed to be in the $75,000 range -- but Burns considers himself worth more than that and remains in Vancouver, where he is said to be working out with the personal trainer for Phoenix Suns star Steve Nash.

The Renegades are prepared to go forward without Burns, and in doing so are putting their faith in guys like Cheron, who was acquired in an off-season trade with Hamilton for a second-round and conditional draft pick.

CAPABLE PLAYER

At that, there are those who believe the Ticats won the deal, that they would have taken anything at all for the 6-foot-4, 304-pounder Laval Rouge et Or graduate who has been on their roster since 2000.

But the Renegades see Cheron as a capable player -- just as he sees the Renegades as a better team than others do. A weekend edition of the Montreal Gazette, for instance, predicts a pitiful season from Ottawa. "The Renegades, much like the 1-17 Hamilton Ticats in 2003, are about to become the league's free space on the bingo card," surmised veteran football writer Herb Zurkowsky.

Cheron, who started all 18 games for that Hamilton team, says the Renegades have much more talent.

"Let them talk," said Cheron, who says he learned a lot about himself and those around him during that dreadful year. "We'll see on the field.

"A lot of people are talking when it's not time. We haven't even played one pre-season game yet. My feeling is, there's a lot of competition and a lot of character here. It's going to make the team better."

At the same time, the native of Charlesborough, Que., will proudly waive the fleur de lis.

"It's great to see football growing everywhere in Quebec," said Cheron. "When I was 10 or 12, hockey was the big thing. Now I would say football is just as strong. The Nordiques left, the Alouettes are back ... football is growing like no other sport."

The Renegades' offensive line will face its first test against the forever-blitzing Alouettes defence in Montreal on Thursday, the pre-season opener for both clubs.


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