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Beleaguered Lions offensive line features fifth starter at left tackle

09/12/2014 07:44 EDT | Updated 11/12/2014 05:59 EST
VANCOUVER - The B.C. Lions offensive line will feature another guest at left offensive tackle when they host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday.

Jermarcus Hardrick, a 24-year-old who played collegiately at Nebraska, becomes the fifth different starter in the quarterback's critical blind-side-protection spot this season — after Travis Lulay was hit numerous times before being sidelined with another shoulder injury on a freak mishap in Ottawa last week.

Hardrick will shift from the left guard spot, where he started last week, to his more natural left tackle spot.

"It'll be good. I've been playing left tackle my whole life," said Hardrick after a walk-through Friday at B.C. Place Stadium. "(It's) a different game (in Canada compared to the U.S.), but I'm excited to be playing with the group of guys I'm playing with. They're all up to speed."

Hardrick, a Lions free-agent signing in July, has a chance to play a critical role while the game shapes up as a battle between a B.C. offensive line that is trying to make up for a poor performance and a Winnipeg defensive line that has been decimated by injuries.

He got the note to replace fellow rookie Cory Brandon, who struggled in his first CFL game, after the Lions failed to score a touchdown for the second consecutive game. B.C. has gone without a touchdown in three games overall, including a 23-6 setback to the Bombers on July 25 at B.C. Place.

"We're just going to play physical football," said Hardrick, a Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints castoff who played with the Utah Blaze in the Arena Football League last season. "If we can play physical and dominate, that's what we're going to do."

The B.C. offensive line was far from dominant in the nation's capital while missing rookie left Hunter Steward (foot), who had established himself as the starter in only two games, and Dean Valli (back), who was limited to just two snaps.

Valli called the game against Ottawa a "perfect storm" of difficult elements for the B.C. offensive line, but he is optimistic that the group can rebound.

"The people of British Columbia, and Vancouver in particular, have certain expectations of the B.C. Lions," said Valli. "And when we maybe don't live up to their expectations, people come down on us. But the flip side of the coin is, we're a 6-4 football team. Sometimes … it feels like we're 1-9, and that's not the case."

The Lions are seeking a victory at home after club president Dennis Skulsky's guaranteed win did not materialize in their last game at B.C. Place, against Saskatchewan on August 24.

Lions running back Andrew Harris did not help reduce the expectations on the offensive line after a practice this week, when he estimated that B.C. could rack up 250 yards rushing against Winnipeg.

"It's not a guarantee — it's a goal," said Harris. "I just challenged our offence to try and get 250 (rushing) yards. There's no guarantee. If anyone did state that somewhere, it's not true. It's a goal for the offence, and I just made it public.

"Sometimes, when you put a little pressure on people, and it gets talked about, they might work a little harder for it. They're all for it. The O-line's talking about it. And we know we're capable of it. It's just a matter of doing it, having that mindset."

The Blue Bombers rank eighth in the CFL in run defence based on an average of 125 rushing yards against. But, based on recent showings, Harris could have a difficult time achieving the goal that he has set for the club.

After averaging 111.6 yards from scrimmage per game in his first seven contests, Harris has struggled since returning from a one-game absence due to an ankle injury. In his last two outings, the Winnipeg native has recorded a combined total of only 55 yards on 20 touches for a paltry 2.75 average.

But he will have a chance to shine against a Winnipeg defensive line that will be missing regulars Zach Anderson (torn Achilles) and Jason Vega (knee) for the remainder of the 2014 season. Willie Moseley and Marvin Booker — who were signed just last week — will move to the active roster from the practice squad.

B.C. quarterback Kevin Glenn, who resumes the starter role he has held most of the season after backing up Lulay last week, is intent on capitalizing on the newcomers' limited familiarity with Winnipeg's defensive system.

"Especially, with some of the guys being new or added in, we need to try to take advantage of it, and that's running the ball and making those guys move from side to side, and trying to wear them down and get tired," said Glenn.

But Lions coach Mike Benevides does not believe his club has an advantage as a result of Winnipeg's defensive changes. And neither does centre Matt Norman.

"If we win, great, but I'm not going to sit here and say: Because they have injured guys, that's why they're going to lose," said Norman. "We're going to win because we're better."

Notes: The Lions have played five games decided by a touchdown or less this season, and are 2-3 in them. … Blue Bombers quarterback Drew Willy is the only CFL quarterback to have thrown for more than 300 yards in five games this season. No other QB has more than two. … The Lions are 2-3 at home.

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