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August 2, 2019

BIG DOGS

CALGARY, AB - JUNE 15, 2019: The Calgary Stampeders lost 32-28 against the Ottawa Redblacks at the Home Opener at McMahon Stadium on Saturday night. (Photo by David Moll/Calgary Stampeders)

They hunt in a pack. Of four, mostly. Five or more for a change of pace or when the situation requires.

Fierce, unrelenting trackers with a success rate of taking down prey rivalling that of the notorious wild dogs who roam the Serengeti.

And these, be warned, are big dogs, with a particularly nasty bite:

Outside fliers Kwaku Boating (6-2, 257 pounds) and Nick Usher (6-3, 235) detonating off the respective edges, working in tandem with inside stoppers Almondo Sewell (6-4, 288) and Mike Moore (6-4, 269), bulldozing everything in sight right down the centre of Main St.

Any given weekend, of course, how effectively a defensive line’s penchant for wanton destruction can be contained, be muffled, is in direct correlation with your odds of winning.

That universal truth holds a particular relevance against this bunch.

“Of all the D-lines around they’re probably the most aggressive and the fastest at the moment,’’ acknowledges Calgary Stampeders’ left offensive tackle Derek Dennis, a.k.a. Bonecrusher, as the countdown for Saturday’s invasion by the Edmonton Eskimos begins in earnest. “We’re going to have to be sharp, going up against a unit that’s pretty much just pinning their ears back and trying to bully everybody.

“The biggest thing their group has going for it right now is playing the game with a lot of physicality and a lot of speed.

“They can all make plays and they can all win 1-on-1s. That’s what you want, what you need, especially up here in the CFL, a heavy passing league.

“Right now, they’re doing that as well as anyone.”

A third of the way into the season, the Eskimos top the nation’s QB-sack charts at 23, more than half their entire 2018 total of 45, which finished in a five-way tie atop the CFL.

And when not actually adding statistically to the take down total, they’re still causing all manner of anarchy in panic-stricken offensive backfields.

The pressure comes from anywhere, everywhere and, it must noted, from a lot of differing back-of-jersey nameplates. Eleven different players modelling green and gold have recorded at least one QB sack over six games, Boateng and Moore currently leading the way with four apiece.

“They’re just a well-rounded group,’’ reckons Stamps’ O-line coach Pat DelMonaco. “It’s a collective effort. They can all rush the passer, all stuff the run. All six of the guys they use, and I also include 29 (Brian Walker) at the SAM, do a great job.

“It’s going to be a helluva challenge.”

So over to you (l to r): Dennis, Ryan Sceviour, Ucambre Williams, Justin Lawrence and Nila Kasitati.

“Almondo, Boateng, Moore, these are guys who have been playing together for three years now,’’ says Willams, who’ll be working smack-dab in the middle of the mayhem.

“Right now they’re playing very vertical and very physical.

“A lot of the teams that have played against them were a little confused by their scheme and when you play confused you play slower, which makes their speed seem even faster.

“But what sets them apart right now, I think, is effort. They’re just outworking everybody. They’re in a rhythm. They feel good about themselves.

“So we’ve got to be ready to raise our level of competition and come to play with our hard-hats on.”

The good news from a Stampeder protection standpoint is that Shane Bergman, nicked up during last Thursday’s win at Ottawa, appears A-OK enough to return to customary spot at left guard.

“Shane’s a seven-, eight-year veteran, man,” lauds Dennis. “He has a lot of football under his belt. It’s very hard replacing a guy who has that much experience. He’s one of our leaders, one of the guys we lean on a lot to get things done. Not too many like him around the league. He’s a dominant offensive lineman. But that goes for Ucambre, goes for Sceviour, goes for Nila and for myself, too.

“We have high expectations of ourselves. We go into every game believing we’re going to dominate our man.”

They toil in relative obscurity, aren’t smothered in outside love, these protectors of the realm.

Keeping this particularly rabid pack of wild dogs from quarterback Nick Arbuckle’s doorstep, though, will go a long way in breaking a 4-2 standings stalemate in the Stampeders’ favour.

“As I said before, I have faith in my abilities and the abilities of the rest of our O-line,’’ says Dennis. “When we’re on our A-Game, we’re a tough group to beat, a tough group to break down.

“We understand what we’re up against. You watch the film and when these guys aren’t actually getting to the quarterback they’re still making his life miserable.

“So we’ve got to match their physicality and their speed.

“Which means we’ve gotta man-up.

“This is going to be a man’s game on Saturday.”