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Building new offensive line first order of business for Gaels

August 19, 2014

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

Can you imagine Ford without the Mustang? Dodge no longer with the Caravan in its line?

What if Chevrolet suddenly decided to do without any of its old marques and ushered in five new models, all at once?

That’s kind of what the Queen’s Golden Gaels will do this fall, when they unveil an offensive line with five new players.

Such turnover may not be unprecedented in the game, but it is surely as rare as a mint Studebaker.

“It’s an interesting challenge and I’m enjoying it,” coach Pat Sheahan said Monday on the first day of the football team’s training camp.

“I’m not sure I’d wish it on anybody, but it is a good group and they’ll come along.”

Not one of the five starters is back from the team that went to the Yates Cup final a year ago.

Tackles Josh Prinsen and Matt Kendrick, guard Derek Morris and centre Mike Sullivan all played their fifth and final year last year. Guard Blake Sirio graduated, as did Francis Shin, who started two games as a reserve last year. If that’s not enough, tackle Nick Romanchuk, a backup the last couple of years and an heir apparent, seriously hurt his knee at the East-West Bowl in May and is lost for the season.

So the Gaels will embark on the campaign with a bunch whose competitive sheen doesn’t quite have the lustre of a chrome bumper.

Quarterback Billy McPhee, perhaps the guy who should be fretting the most about such rampant inexperience, appears not to be that concerned. He recalled his second year with the team. “The D line was Derek Wiggan, John Miniaci, Osie Ukuwuoma and Frank Pankewich,” he said. “Four all-stars.”

Against such formidible opposition in practice, well, let’s just say the offensive linemen of the day didn’t quite sparkle right off the bat.

“At the beginning of camp, it’s always first team (offence) versus first team (defence), so at the beginning of camp we got nothing done on offence,” McPhee said.

“I’d do this,” he said, mimicking a three-step drop, “look up and, boom — sack. It was awful, but we finished 6-2 that year and made the playoffs.

“They’ll figure it out. We’ll be OK.”

The lot where the Gaels are shopping for replacements isn’t exactly full of used Ladas. John Meenagh started three games last year, two at centre, and Queen’s won them all. Likewise the two games Ryan Dougherty started before he suffered a leg injury. Marco Ciallella is in his fifth year in the program. Erick Lessard and Emilio Frometa both played for Canada when it won the world under-19 championship in Austin, Tex., in 2012.

Hometown boy Brendan Ginn is also among the group of 13 players aspiring to a spot on the team.

“The challenge this year is to get the O line up to snuff,” Sheahan said. “The good news is this: we’ve recruited well over the past few years and we do have a group that is appropriate and ready to move up. We have guys going into third year who are big, strong kids and it’s their time to play.

“Unfortunately not many of those guys have had much experience at this level so there’s going to be some growing pains early but they’re an intelligent group and they’re a hard-working group. This is their time.”

The level of inexperience will, for the time being, have implications on what the Gaels try to do on offence.

“There are some system things that you want to do, particularly early in the season,” Sheahan said. “There’s a few question marks. (You’ll see) probably a little more two-back protection, stuff like that, so you’re protecting with seven to give the appropriate help, if they need it. We’re certainly prepared to be able to do that.

“The good thing is that they’re not bad run blockers, so if we can get the running game going, that gets us into the plus on first down and that takes pressure off the passing game. If you don’t get too many second-and-longs, second and medium now becomes a potential pass or run down, because we do have good skill guys.”

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