No glamour on O-line

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:39 AM ET

The chances of an offensive lineman winning an award that doesn't have the words "offensive lineman" on the trophy are about the same as one of them skipping an all-you-can-eat buffet.

It just doesn't happen very often.

That's why Winnipeg Blue Bombers left guard Brendon LaBatte is going to have a difficult time earning the East Division nod for CFL rookie of the year, even though it could be argued he should.

"Think about what he's accomplished," Bombers offensive line coach Bob Wylie said yesterday. "He's a 21-year old kid coming out of college, coming into pro football, and he's starting at left guard at 21 years old.

"That's an amazing feat in itself. I was happy he knew where to line up."

LaBatte's chief rivals for the award are slick Hamilton receiver Prechae Rodriguez, who is 30 receiving yards shy of 1,000, and Montreal's Larry Taylor, one of the league's top punt returners.

Rodriguez and Taylor have both had solid professional debuts, no doubt. Neither, however, has been in his role from the beginning of the season. Rodriguez was on the Hamilton practice roster for the first three weeks of the season, while Taylor didn't play until Montreal's fifth game.

LaBatte, the sixth overall pick in April's CFL draft out of the University of Regina, stepped into the injured Matt Sheridan's spot from the get-go and will not be giving it back. LaBatte has missed only one game, due to a concussion, and has been as solid as any player on Winnipeg's offensive line.

RAVED

"I'm not even sure if he's been responsible for a sack," head coach Doug Berry said.

Wylie, who has spent 10 seasons as an O-line coach in the NFL, raved about LaBatte's inherent skills.

"He gets hit, and he doesn't get knocked off balance real easily," Wylie said. "Now, they'll get him. Once in a while they'll get him, but it's tough to knock him off.

"He's got what I call a natural anchor. He just naturally knows how to hold himself and anchor down when he's striking people. He just naturally knows where to bring his hands. It's like he was born to be an offensive lineman."

And unfortunately for LaBatte, that means he's not going to win many awards. Chicks just don't dig the run blockers and pass protectors. It's not nearly as glamourous or sexy as a receiver's 1,000-yard season.

"Nobody says anything about us until we do something bad," Wylie said.

O-linemen are also loathe to toot their own horns. That didn't stop LaBatte's fellow linemen from having some fun yesterday when he was asked if he thought he had a shot at being named the East's top rookie.

"Tell him those other clowns are lucky to be in the CFL and that you should be in the NFL," Darryl Conrad offered. "... Tell him left guard is the hardest position to play."

Matt O'Meara then piped up, motioning to the locker-room TV that was showing a replay of Sunday's NFL game between the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers.

"Point to the screen," O'Meara called out to LaBatte, "and say, 'Yeah. Two years. I'll be there.' "

LaBatte chuckled.

"I'm just gonna play this last game and playoff game as best as I can," he said, "and hopefully somebody will see it and like what they see and vote for me."


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