In training camp last month, the offensive line was criticized by both general manager Ed Hervey and head coach Kavis Reed.
How things have changed. Just two games into the CFL season, the line is getting nothing but respect.
"Saw a brilliant performance last week [in Hamilton]," Reed said of the line that opened some big holes for running back Hugh Charles and provided quarterback Mike Reilly with plenty of protection. "Saw a pretty good performance against Saskatchewan [in Week 1]. Not what we expected but we really feel this group, if they stay healthy and we're patient with them, they will be one of the best offensive lines in this league at year's end. That's our expectation. We feel those guys have the talent. They definitely have the drive to be able to get to that level."
Positive reinforcement for a hard-working group as it prepares for Saturday's meeting with the B.C. Lions, but the words are taken with caution by the linemen themselves.
"Hey man, that's yet to be seen," cautioned rookie right tackle Cliff Louis. "We're working hard to work together. Hopefully we will become one of the most dominating lines in the league."
They did take a big step last week in Edmonton's 30-20 win over the Tiger-Cats in Hamilton, especially after opening space for Charles to run 70 yards for a touchdown on the Eskimos first offensive series.
"Oh man that was phenomenal," Lewis said of the TD run. "It feels awesome to open up holes for a running back and then get him into the end zone. It's a momentum booster, it brings the morale up, and it brings the cammerardie together. We're already amped up ready to play and it adds on to that feeling."
Besides providing the opportunity for Edmonton to rush for 177 yards, the O-line also didn't allow a quarterback sack versus Hamilton.
"That was huge for us," right guard Simeon Rottier said of the no-sack performance. "We've been focusing all week on being sharp. We're still building that chemistry and that helps."
Preparing for Lions
The Eskimos O-line will have its hands full against the Lions fast, aggressive defensive front seven that has been a huge contributor to B.C. winning their last two games in Edmonton and seven of the last 10 here.
"They're going to be a challenge, but we're going to be a challenge as well," said Louis. "We're going to be two gladiators out there duelling. We're going to have some blows, they're going to have some blows and whoever walks out with their heads still on, you know, they'll be the winner."
The Lions are without linebacker Adam Bighill, but Reed said their defence isn't likely to have much dropoff with veteran Anton McKenzie in the lineup.
The Eskimos are still without receiver Adarius Bowman and will be missing defensive end Marcus Howard. Reed said the Eskimos anticipated that Howard, with his injury history, wouldn't play every game so he's confident Brandon Lang will fill in adequately.
"There will be a dropoff, obviously, Brandon is not Marcus yet, but we don't feel it is significant," Reed said.
Top receiver Fred Stamps, who hasn't practised all week, will once again be a game-time decision.