Stanley Bryant and Dominic Picard are not happy hogs these days.
The veteran offensive linemen were brought in to help protect starting Blue Bombers quarterback Drew Willy and stabilize a unit that had given up a franchise-high 71 sacks last year.
Heading into Friday’s game against the visiting Toronto Argonauts (4-2), Willy is on the sidelines with a serious knee injury and Winnipeg (3-4) has allowed a league-high 23 sacks through seven games – the same number after seven games last season.
That hasn’t reflected well on the “hogs,” the nickname given to the big men playing on the O-line.
“The whole offensive line, we take pride in protecting our quarterback so it’s never easy to see our starting quarterback go down like it happened,” Picard, a 10-year centre, said after the team’s Thursday walk-through practice.
“We take it personal, for sure. At the same time, we’re moving on and we’ve got to step up and play better as an offence.”
The line will be protecting third-string quarterback Robert Marve on Friday as he starts his first pro game instead of backup Brian Brohm.
Knowing Willy is out a minimum six to eight weeks after suffering a tibial plateau fracture and a partial posterior cruciate ligament tear in his right knee has been hard to swallow, said left tackle Bryant, a free-agent signing in his sixth CFL season.
“Right now for us, I think it’s tough because three games out of seven we’ve seen Drew on the ground?,” Bryant said.
“I’ll say, for me, it’s kind of disappointing because I know I was brought here to be one of the guys to keep Drew upright, or any quarterback upright. But we just have to be better as a whole, starting from the offensive line to the receivers to the running backs and any guy that’s blocking.”
Marve said the offensive line met with him privately after he was named the starter and he didn’t sense they were down on themselves.
“If anything, those guys have been the most positive group,” Marve said. “They kind of came at me and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got you. Let’s make plays happen together.”’
The Bombers’ offence will also be without starting running back Paris Cotton (broken arm), leading receiver Darvin Adams (undisclosed) and offensive left guard Patrick Neufeld (broken thumb). Chris Greaves will replace Neufeld after being a healthy scratch the past two games.
Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea’s injury woes didn’t get any sympathy from his Toronto counterpart, whose team has pulled off four come-from-behind wins.
“We’re on our backup quarterback,” head coach Scott Milanovich said, referring to Trevor Harris. “Our injury list is 20 pages long.
“I love (O’Shea). I don’t feel sorry for him because everybody in the league is going through this right now.”
Bombers defensive linemen Greg Peach and Bryant Turner return from injury.
The Argonauts will have 2012 Grey Cup most valuable player Chad Kackert backing up running back Henry Josey. Kackert hasn’t played since October 2013 because of an ankle injury and retirement. Slotback Anthony Coombs returns to the lineup after missing the last game.
The rookie Harris knows what it’s like to be thrust into the starting role while his team awaits injured veteran Ricky Ray’s return. He had a little bit of advice for Marve.
“Just stay within the offence, stay within yourself,” Harris said. “Don’t do anything you can’t do.
“But I don’t want to tell him too much. Can’t give him any of the Ricky Ray secrets.”