Almondo Sewell’s absence gives Cody Fajardo a ‘little smile’ as Riders look to bounce back from eight-sack loss

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

The Montreal Alouettes will be without veteran defensive tackle Almondo Sewell for their rematch with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina and that has quarterback Cody Fajardo in a chipper mood.

“[It gives me] a little smile, of course,” the Riders’ pivot chuckled in front of the media on Friday. “He’s one of the best around. Obviously, he creates havoc and he does a lot of stuff that doesn’t show up on the stats sheet as well, the things where he takes double teams on.”

“He’s really good in short yardage. Last week, we had a couple of short yardages where he got off the ball really quick and made it difficult. We ended up getting him, but it’s never an easy thing with him.”

Sewell did not practice on Thursday due to what the Alouettes described as non-injury-related reasons. The future Hall of Famer was subsequently added to the one-game injured list in a reserve capacity and will not be available on Saturday at Mosaic.

The 11-year veteran found his way to Fajardo for two sacks last week in the Alouettes’ dominant 37-13 win over the travelling Riders, bringing Sewell’s impressive career total up to 67. Prefacing his comments by saying he’s glad the big man in the middle isn’t injured, Fajardo acknowledged his absence was a relief.

With that said, he insisted the Riders’ troubles wouldn’t disappear with Sewell.

“With him off the roster, you’ll smile a little bit bigger, but honestly, they have a great front seven and they showed it last week,” Fajardo said. “I think they had eight sacks and it wasn’t like Sewell got all eight of those sacks. They’ve got other great players, so we’re going to have our work cut out for us, but it’s definitely beneficial when one of their top defensive linemen’s not playing.”

That was a sentiment echoed by head coach Craig Dickenson, who was quick to remind reporters that four other Alouettes also laid the lumber on his quarterback last week.

“They’ve got [Michael] Wakefield and they’ve got [Mike] Moore, they’ve got a lot of guys,” he stressed. “I think Mondo’s an emotional leader for them, so it’ll hurt them a little bit in that department, but that’s a good defensive line. That’s a good team. I think [general manager Danny Maciocia] has done a nice job of building that team and you look across the board, there’s not a weakness on any phase of that team; O, D or special teams.”

Many attributed the Alouettes’ cascade of sacks to problems along the Saskatchewan offensive line. The Riders lost veteran centre Dan Clark to a broken fibula in Week 2 and rookie Logan Bandy was forced to make the first start of his career on a short week.

Dickenson admitted that Bandy made some mistakes — as many centres do when Almondo Sewell is lined up over top of you — but noted that there was plenty of blame to be spread around for the protection errors, including to Fajardo and the team’s running backs. Overall, the offensive line was not as bad as fans have made it seem.

“I think our line played better than what the eight [sacks] would indicate,” he said. “I thought they competed hard and, for the most part, stayed in front of their defensive linemen but that’s a good defensive front. I think they did a good job of disguising some things and forcing us to hang onto the ball a little longer than we wanted to.”

The line will still need to be better to secure a win this week and Fajardo believes they can be. Sewell’s absence will help with that but the biggest difference will be the full week of practice and his own increased comfort level with Bandy. Prior to last week, Dan Clark was the only Riders’ centre he’s ever known.

“When you have one practice with a brand new centre and you don’t get the looks that you deserve or that you need, there’s going to be some communication breakdowns,” Fajardo explained. “It was a night and day difference throughout the week in practice and playing the same team and having that familiarity is big as well for Bandy. I’m just excited for that group up front. I know that they’re going to do a tremendous job.”

If Sewell’s absence produced a little smile, that improvement has him grinning ear to ear.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.