Laying it on the line

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:06 AM ET

Go ahead and venture into the southwest corner of the Bomber locker-room -- if you dare.

There are usually more tricks than treats in that area of the Blue and Gold bunker, because that's where the offensive lineman hang their hats.

The large men have already blown the team's budget on athletic tape (to mark their territory) and shaving cream (to rub in each other's faces during TV interviews, of course).

"We spend a lot of time in the locker-room," right tackle Glenn January said, "so we get a little bit bored."

Camaraderie

Centre Obby Khan, who spent the last two seasons battling colitis and a host of other injuries, said the camaraderie among this year's crew of pass protectors and run blockers is the best he's seen in a while on Maroons Road.

"We get along really well," said Khan, a fourth-year Bomber. "We hang out off the field, we hang out on the field. It's been a really good group of guys, where in previous years I haven't had that before. And I think that led to some lows on the offensive line."

The lows this year have been few and far between. The Bombers have allowed the fewest sacks (although they've attempted the fewest passes), and their 125-yard rushing average is second, by a slim margin, to only the Calgary Stampeders.

The O-line has been the rock on offence while the quarterbacks and receivers took their time getting going.

Not too shabby for a group that Khan admits was a "100%" unknown going into training camp after the free-agent departures of Alexandre Gauthier, Dominic Picard and Kyle Koch, and the trade of Dan Goodspeed.

Khan had been on the shelf for most of the last two years, new left tackle Steve Morley had started one football game in the previous five seasons, right guard Ryan Donnelly barely took part in training camp due to sore knees, and sixth man Luke Fritz had been let go by Montreal.

Left guard Brendon LaBatte, meanwhile, was coming off a stellar rookie campaign, and January, the lone American in the group, signed in Winnipeg after productive seasons in Toronto (2007) and Saskatchewan (2008).

The Bombers had enough talent that guard Kelly Bates, who came out of camp as a starter and helped the team rush for 232 yards against Calgary in August, was banished to the nine-game list shortly thereafter.

"That's the thing," LaBatte said of the negative pre-season press. "You put guys in situations where they have to produce, and you kick a guy and back him into the corner, they're going to come out and fight eventually."

It was reasonable to suggest the Bomber O-line was a question mark heading into camp, but head coach Mike Kelly, who has always disagreed with that notion, can now say he was right all along.

"We had confidence in the guys that we were bringing in," said Kelly, who feels O-line coach Charlie Carpenter has done superb work. "People just didn't know who they were and they knew the guys that were leaving.

"... The guys have hung together, and they've really morphed into that group that we were hoping they'd be."

Kelly said LaBatte is as good as any guard in the CFL and that January and Morley are the best tackles in the East Division.

Khan credited a pre-camp night out, not to mention good health along the entire line, as the initial bond builder that led to the group's excellent nonverbal communication skills.

The group got together at a local Wasabi restaurant in May, plopped down all the "O-line fine money" that had been collected in 2008 and told the servers to keep it coming.

"We had a great night out," Khan said.

Their personal connections show up on the field, and they're even more clear in the locker-room, where no one is safe from a verbal -- or shaving cream -- attack.

"January's the misfit of the group," Khan said. "Look at him. He's American, he's not very attractive, he's been on three teams in three years, and he doesn't really have a lot of friends.

"So we feel, as a unit, we have to put it on our shoulders and really hold him together. He's been doing well this year. His mom would be proud of him."

kirk.penton@sunmedia.ca


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