Training camp is in its final week, which means the one-on-one pass rushing battles between offensive and defensive linemen are almost over as well.
No one on either side of the line seems overly sad about that.
Bombers defensive tackle Doug Brown was asked if he could remember a funny story from a one-on-one drill during his professional career. It was like asking for his favourite moment from all the funerals he’s ever attended.
“It’s not really a funny drill,” Brown said. “It’s pretty personal, and it’s pretty violent.”
Five offensive linemen line up against a defensive lineman, but only one of them tries to stop the defender from getting to the tackling dummy situated where the quarterback would be.
It’s man against man. No assistance provided. As an added bonus, everyone is watching.
That wasn’t good news for a young Brendon LaBatte, who showed up to his first professional camp two years ago and promptly got torched again and again.
“My first year here I was collecting tickets and just watching guys go for the ride. That’s all I was doing,” LaBatte said with a chuckle. “It probably took me five or six days before I won my first one-on-one.
“I was going up against Doug, and he’s got that forklift move where he picks you up by your armpits and you’re on your tiptoes and just going backwards. And if he really wanted to be mean to you, he’d dump you right on your back. He was nice enough to let up on me.”
Brown, who at age 35 hasn’t been forced to do the drill many times during this year’s training camp, doesn’t have fond memories of his first CFL one-one-one, either.
“I’ve only been cut once in 14 years of one-on-ones,” Brown said. “That was Brett MacNeil. I beat him pretty cleanly, and he put his helmet into my ankle just as I was on my way to the quarterback.”
Both sides, of course, believe one-on-ones are easier for the other.
“It’s easier on the D-linemen, absolutely,” Bombers offensive line coach Pat DelMonaco said. “They know it’s a pass. They don’t have to worry about the run at all.”
Defensive end Phillip Hunt begged to differ.
“It’s in the offensive lineman’s favour, because they know the snap count and they can set quicker than you can adjust to it,” Hunt said. “Whereas in a game you can kind of read different keys, like which are the route receivers or just different backs. You can look down a line and see if they’re in a pass stance or a run stance.”
Countered LaBatte: “D-line’s definitely got the advantage. They’ve got two ways to go and we’ve got no help. We can’t bump him into anybody or anything like that. In a game, you get a little out of position, you can always push him into the next guy and kind of create a bit of a pileup. But out there you’re completely exposed.”
One-on-ones are fun to watch from a spectator’s perspective, but the big question is how much they actually accomplish. Brown isn’t sure if it’s “situationally relevant,” while Hunt said he prefers the real thing. LaBatte, however, noted it’s the only time an offensive lineman’s bad technique can be seen plain as day.
DelMonaco agrees with LaBatte in that one-on-ones allow coaches to see which hogs can make the grade and which ones cannot.
“It really puts the offensive linemen in the most difficult position they can be in,” he said, “and you really start to see guys who can move their feet and who can compete.”
While one-on-ones may be football’s most primal drill, at least one person tries to find some humour in it. That, according to Brown, would be defensive line coach Richard Harris.
“At the end of the camp coach Harris will have one of us, on the snap of the ball, lie on the ground, just to see what the offensive lineman does when we drop to all fours.”
He probably breathes a sigh of relief.