The offensive line is the engine that drives a football team’s offence.
Nobody pays a lot of attention to it. Everybody pretty much takes it for granted.
Until something goes Pffft! Clank!
And the Toronto Argonauts, they’ve been clunking like a gas-starved Edsel for much of the last year and a half. Quarterback Cleo Lemon’s struggles have been well documented but right guard Taylor Robertson allowed Monday that an offensive line — inhabited by several decorated veterans — has had its own issues.
For starters, they haven’t been able to stay on the field, with the Toronto offence watching from the sidelines an average of 34.21 minutes every game. When the other team’s quarterback has an extra 10 minutes every night to pick apart your defence, it’s not likely you are going home happy.
And the Argos have been very, very unhappy. The club goes into Thursday’s game against Saskatchewan with one win in seven games. They also go into it with renewed optimism after an offensive awakening against Montreal and, a 32-point explosion in a loss to Hamilton.
“We played better than we have the past six weeks. But we’re not there yet or the score would’ve been different but there’s some positives we can take out of the game,” said Robertson.
The club put up more than 500 yards against the Ticats, more than enough to win most games. Better yet, the offensive line was able to get a ground attack going with running back Cory Boyd.
“We definitely turned a corner,” Robertson said of the offensive line play. “That was one game where we probably had the most improvement.”
Individually, the talent is there. Rob Murphy at left tackle has twice been named the CFL’s outstanding lineman. Robertson has been a league all-star and Cedric Gagne Marcoux at left guard is a former No. 1 draft pick. The unit is rounded out with centre Dominic Picard and right tackle Chris Van Zeyl.
“We have to put it together on the field. It doesn’t matter what kind of individual awards we’ve won. Those are nice to reflect on but they don’t count for anything or else we’d all have rings on our fingers as well. We’ve got to play as a unit, kind of like five people in one person’s body,” said Robertson.
Line play appears to be an exercise in mayhem but it is actually a choreographed dance that takes time and experience to perfect.
“This is the second year all five of us are together and we’re slowly starting to see the benefits of that,” said Robertson. ”Offensive line guys are probably the closest guys on the team off the field and on the field you have to know what the other four guys are doing as well as yourself. If one guy messes up it can kill your whole blocking schemes. It’s not like you can throw guys in there off the street. You need to build cohesiveness and that only comes with time. It’s not as easy as it looks.”
Few would dare suggest an offensive lineman’s lot is easy. Robertson, a granite wall of 6-foot-6 and 317 pounds, stands between Lemon and the maelstrom of football’s trenches where games are won and lost, but where the participants are rarely celebrated. The only time an offensive lineman gets noticed is when something goes wrong, when a running back gets plastered, when a penalty flag flies.
In that kind of working atmosphere, it is necessary to live in a Teflon bubble, necessary to develop a single-minded obsession with the next play, the next block, the next step. In the trenches there is only the sweat, the blood, a snarling stew of arms, legs, and bodies co-ordinated in a dance of pain and occasional ecstasy.
Toronto has run just 124 running plays, compared to 172 for the teams they’ve played. That means the Scullers’ offensive line has been on its heels in pass protection most times. Against Hamilton the ground game came alive.
Boyd ran the ball 16 times himself for 73 yards and a touchdown.
“It feels good. It feels really good!” said Robertson. “It’s a lot better to run the ball than to sit there and wait for them to come at you with a predetermined pass rush move. In this league you’re a yard off the ball so they’ve got a three or four yard head start on you.
“It feels pretty good to have Cory in the backfield to run it down their throat once in a while.”