The Montreal Alouettes offensive line is usually taken for granted as one of the best in the Canadian Football League.
But the Als big men will have pressure on their shoulders when they face the Calgary Stampeders on Saturday night missing both starting guards.
Nine-time CFL all-star Scott Flory was lost for the rest of the season when he suffered a torn biceps in a 22-14 loss to the Stampeders (2-1) last week. Guard Andrew Woodruff was already on the nine-game disabled list, reportedly with concussion symptoms.
That will bring versatile backup Ryan Bomben into the starting five for the rematch at McMahon Stadium. American Mike Ola had already moved in at guard to replace Woodruff.
“It’s going OK,” tackle Josh Bourke said Thursday. “We’re still working through things, but the biggest thing is they know what they’re doing.
“They’ve played enough that they know what’s going on and they’re prepared to step in and play right away.”
The unit that allowed just 30 sacks last season — which has Luc Brodeur-Jourdain at centre between guards Flory and Woodruff and tackles Bourke and Jeff Perrett — was already taking heat for giving up 13 in the first three games of the 2013 campaign.
The entire offence has struggled with the departure of coach Marc Trestman to the Chicago Bears, as the Alouettes (1-2) gets used to a new system under Dan Hawkins and offensive co-ordinator Mike Miller.
Sacks are only part of the nightmare for 40-year-old quarterback Anthony Calvillo, who has laboured to move the chains under the new regime. His 69.0 efficiency rating is more than 30 points below normal.
“We haven’t played our best, but as an offence in general we haven’t played our best this season,” said Bourke, the CFL’s 2011 outstanding lineman. “We realize that.
“We know we’re a work in progress right now. But we have a lot of talent on this offence and I think we can pop at any time. You have to stay positive. One of these weeks things are going to click for us.”
It’s new territory for the O-line. The starting five lost only five man-games to injury all last season, four of them when Perrett was sidelined with a hyper-extended left knee.
The good news is they have depth.
Ola, in his second season in Montreal, played eight games in 2012, five as a starter. He can play both guard and tackle.
Bomben, a Burlington, Ont., native in his third season, is a jack-of-all-trades, playing guard, tackle, tight end and fullback at different times while dressing for all 18 games last season. He even caught five passes for 33 yards and a touchdown.
“He has tremendous feet,” Brodeur-Jourdain said of Bomben. “He’s in a bad position and suddenly he gets back.
“I’m very confident in these two guards. But for sure, we can’t replace Flory. He’s the mastermind of our O-line for many years. He’s the brain, basically.”
The 37-year-old Flory, a two-time CFL outstanding lineman, is certainly the elder statesman. The Regina native has been an Alouette since his pro debut in 1999. He has missed only one game in the last 13 years.
“Besides being a great player, he’s the biggest leader we have,” added Bourke. “But to honour him, we just have to play well.”
Meanwhile, Calvillo was throwing the ball with no problem a day after banging a finger on a helmet in practice. He had jammed the same hand against the Stampeders, but stayed in the game.
“The strength was OK and that was the only thing I was concerned with,” the CFL’s all-time passing leader said. “It’s still sore, but that’s going to happen.
“I was able to complete my throws and I was very happy with it.”
It will be Montreal’s second away game of the season, but they didn’t use simulated crowd noise while the offence practised this week. Calvillo said that’s normal for a trip to McMahon.
“Every time we’ve been in Calgary we’ve never been on the silent count,” he said. “(Adviser to the head coach) Doug Berry, when he was in Winnipeg, never went on the silent count.
“It’s always going to be loud, but we always got away with it. It was definitely discussed this week.”
Still, the noise will be a test for Brodeur-Jourdain. In a season-opening victory in Winnipeg, the centre was called twice for procedure for bobbing his head two times before snapping the ball as part of a silent count. A new CFL rule allows only one head-bob per play as it is considered a ploy to lure defences offside.
“It’s always hard to play in the noise, and then you can’t use your silent count,” he said. “Then everything is on one, so that makes it easy for the defence.”