A centre of attention

Renegades coach Joe Paopao directs his offence through a pre-game walkthrough yesterday at Frank...

Renegades coach Joe Paopao directs his offence through a pre-game walkthrough yesterday at Frank Clair Stadium. The 'Gades face the Alouettes tonight at Frank Clair Stadium. (Ottawa Sun/Tony Caldwell)

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

When Jean-Francois Roy arrived at Renegades training camp, he saw himself as the 11th of 11 offensive linemen.

Now he's front and centre.

Roy, who had never snapped before three weeks ago, will be first on the ball when the Renegades' offence faces mostly the Montreal Alouette high-pressure first team defence in the final pre-season tuneup tonight (7 p.m.) at Frank Clair Stadium.

Final cuts will be made after the game.

A rookie who had current linemate Marc Parenteau as his positional coach at Bishop's after he was cut by Ottawa last year, Roy could also be the starting centre when the team opens its 2005 regular season in Edmonton next week -- if George Hudson's swollen foot is still a problem. Roy, of course, has to prove he's worthy of the job tonight.

"It's not a pre-season game for me," said Roy. "It hasn't been a training camp. I feel like I've played 15 games so far. Every practice I have to approach like a game. I'm on the spot."

Roy said squaring off daily against the talent on Ottawa's D-line has helped prepare him for the current situation, but also acknowledged he has never before battled Robert Brown, the exceptional Als defensive tackle. Brown will see plenty of action tonight, as will rush end Anwar Stewart, tackle Ed Philion and end Marc Megna, along with linebackers Tim Strickland, Kevin Johnson and Duane Butler.

"We are going to get our veteran players a lot of work," Als head coach Don Matthews said after the team bus drove through "a carwash" of a downpour to get here yesterday afternoon. "They got very little last week (in Ottawa's 27-16 win)."

Matthews said quarterback Anthony Calvillo will play a half, and maybe more, if he feels he needs the work. The Renegades, whose offensive line will consist of only three (of eight) players with CFL regular season experience, may alter their own QB plans.

"You're always concerned about protecting your quarterback ... we're going to evaluate as the game unravels," said Paopao. "Right now, we've got (starter) Kerry (Joseph) going the first half, but he may not make it that long. We want to make sure he's ready to go next week."

Said Joseph: "Whatever Coach Paopao decides, I'll roll with it."

Sacrificing himself, essentially, will be Darnell Kennedy, the former Renegade who was resigned this week when backup Brad Banks suffered a shoulder injury that will sideline him for another week, at least. Paul Peterson should also get some work.

"I didn't really get many reps this week," said Kennedy. "But all the plays we're running we did last season.

"Playing Montreal after a loss, you know they're going to come that much harder, they'll be that much faster to the line. It's going to be hard for the younger guys to pick it up, but that's part of football. We just have to go out and play as hard as we can from the first snap."

Paopao figures the toughest decisions he'll ultimately have are along his team's defensive line, where 12 players are still fighting for position. Another 12 are trying to land employment in the Ottawa secondary with a half dozen linebackers doing the same.

Included in the latter group is import linebacker Chris Shelling, who has had a strong camp after sitting out last year. A veteran of six CFL seasons, Shelling understands as well as anyone how the American-Canadian ratio must be a large factor in a coach's thinking.

"Practice is practice, but you've got to perform on game day," said Shelling, who had a fumble recovery in Montreal last week. "I'm not a coach, I don't make the ratio ... I just get it how it comes, and show my abilities on the field."

Tonight's game will also determine the fate of rookie receiver Robert Quiroga, who survived one bullet when the Renegades released Larry "Sparky" Hamilton on the weekend. Quiroga disputes the notion he can't impress unless the ball is thrown his way.

"There are plenty of ways to contribute ... not necessarily just by having the ball in your hands," said Quiroga.

"They (coaches) watch the film and see how you're running your routes and blocking down field. When you don't get the ball, you have to be able to open up the field and help everybody else."


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