'Gades' O-line facing another renovation

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:13 AM ET

The Renegades' woeful offensive line is in line for more change.

Import left tackle Reggie Nelson has again come up limping -- this time favouring his left ankle -- and is questionable for Saturday's home tilt against the Calgary Stampeders.

Nelson suffered the injury on the second play of Friday's 39-27 loss to the B.C. Lions, his first game of the season after missing two weeks with a sprained right ankle.

Should Nelson sit out, Val St. Germain will likely move back to left tackle from his regular job at left guard. Veteran Mike Sutherland would be the logical choice to start at left guard, although import Morris Unutoa could play.

But it's becoming apparent more drastic measures are needed.

Through three games, the Renegades (1-2) have allowed a CFL-leading 16 sacks, five more than the next group of Swiss cheese impersonators. The biggest reasons for Ottawa's two losses to date have been the inability to keep pressure off quarterback Kerry Joseph and sustain drives.

The Renegades only had eight first downs in a 41-16 loss to Edmonton and just 10 in Vancouver. As a result, their opponents have had possession of the ball 15:58 and 14:56 longer, respectively.

Unless you're relying on the few big gains they managed against B.C., it's tough to score -- or prevent your defence from being worn down -- unless you have the ball longer than that.

"As with any offence, it starts up front," running back Josh Ranek said pointedly yesterday when pressed for thoughts on why the offence is sputtering. "Those guys know that. Their job is to protect the quarterback when we're passing, and open holes when we're running.

"If they're not successful, first and foremost, then we can't be successful in other parts of the game."

BREAKDOWNS

The breakdowns are occurring from tackle to tackle. Not helping the cause is the constant change because of injuries. Or that centre George Hudson has had to fight through a bad ankle of his own since camp. Or the inexperience of both rookie left tackle Marc Parenteau (Week 1) and first-year starting right tackle Ibrahim Khan.

While they believe they possess good young talent, the Renegades are really in no position to let the problems correct themselves.

Coach/GM Joe Paopao admitted the team is working on bringing in another lineman, probably an American because "it's easier to find those types of guys right now."

Ottawa did have a chance to land former all-star Canadian tackle Dave Mudge, who was traded from the Blue Bombers to the Montreal Alouettes for backup lineman Aaron Fiacconi and future considerations over the weekend.

Mudge, a 6-foot-7, 305-pounder, was offered to the Renegades for a first-round pick and cash, but Ottawa backed off -- understandably suspicious as to why Winnipeg would deal a 30-year-old starting non-import offensive lineman who was a CFL all-star in 2002.

"I thought we had a good shot (at Mudge)," said Paopao. "We tried to broker that deal for four weeks. It just didn't turn out."

And so the Renegades now face a must-win game with a patchwork O-line against a Calgary team known for a defence that has allowed just 37 points in its first two games.

"Some of it is technique stuff ..... we expect them to win a few," Paopao said of the battles opposition defenders have had with Ottawa offensive linemen. "They have won more than anticipated."

Said Ranek: "We didn't convert on second downs (8-of-21 in B.C.). I guess you could pinpoint the situations we get ourselves into ... second and 15s, second and 20s are a lot harder to pick up than second and four or second and six. Then there's the procedures, the holding penalties ... we put ourselves in not very good situations.

"It's a pretty simple plan. Even if you don't put up the points on every drive, if you average three or four (first downs) a drive you give the defence the rest it needs."


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