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Eskimos with big hole to fill on offensive line against Alouettes

MONTREAL — Talk about one big hole to fill.

It’s not every day the Edmonton Eskimos have to fill a void the size of six-foot-11, 350-pound offensive lineman Matt O’Donnell. Thankfully.

But that’s exactly the position they find themselves in Saturday against the Montreal Alouettes (2 p.m., TSN, 630 CHED), after the starting right guard went down with a leg injury last week in Vancouver.

“He’s a good player. Obviously, he’s an all-star,” said Eskimos O-line coach and assistant head coach Mike Gibson. “He’ll be back at some point this season, so we’re happy about that.

“Next-man-up mentality.”

The next man, in this case, is rookie Kyle Saxelid, a six-foot-seven, 290-pound University of Nevada – Las Vegas product who was drafted in the second round (12th overall) by Edmonton in May.

“We obviously felt very highly of him to draft him where we drafted him,” Gibson said. “He’s athletic, he’s played a lot of football before he played at a good place in the south and he’s got (collegiate) experience as a starter, and that’s the most important thing.

“The game doesn’t seem too fast for him. He’s just got to get better with his technique and that will come with more reps against better people.”

The 24-year-old native of Elk Grove, Calif., whose mother was born in Canada, displayed a natural ability and versatility in training camp that earned him a spot on the roster as the sixth O-lineman.

“The young kid went in there and played almost three quarters of a game,” Gibson said of last week’s 33-6 win over the B.C. Lions. “He made some mistakes but he’s got some experience now and he did a good job when he was in there, so we’re expecting him to step up.”

Right into his first Canadian Football League start, no less, as an active part of a unit that has only surrendered one sack against Trevor Harris so far this season.

“No sacks, for sure,” said Saxelid, who got his first taste of professional football in a game where he got in for more than special packages. “I’ll remember it for the rest of my life, it’s an added bonus that we got a win, for sure.

“On a personal level, I just know I need to do a little better.”

He spent the week practising with the first team and preparing to face an Alouettes squad that’s been on a bit of a roll with a two-game win streak to their credit.

“It’s a little faster than what you’re normally used to in practice and everything, but at the end of the day it’s still football,” Saxelid said of the CFL game. “It’s for sure a job I wanted to win, I want to be on the field. You never want to be on the field because a man is injured, but things happen and that’s exactly what happened and I’m the sixth man.

“Whoever it was, I’ve got to go in there and I did my job.”

It’s the lone change to the Eskimos active roster this week, as O’Donnell moves to the six-game injured list to make way for J’Michael Deane, a veteran of eight CFL seasons, to come in off the practice roster to become the sixth O-lineman.


The Alouettes will be without two of their top receivers Saturday.

B.J. Cunningham was placed on the one-game injured list, while DeVier Posey is on the six-game IL.

Cunningham, who pushed his consecutive-catch streak to 61 games last week, currently sits seventh overall with a team-leading 320 yards and a touchdown on 23 catches.

Posey, a free-agent acquisition from the B.C. Lions over the off-season, has 100 yards and a touchdown on nine catches with the Alouettes up to this point.

We’re definitely losing some of our playmaking ability with B.J. and DeVier not being in this game. It will be a challenge, for sure, but I like the group that we have assembled,” said Aloeuttes head coach and offensive co-ordinator Khari Jones. “I like the guys that have been stepping up: Quan Bray has stepped up; Eugene Lewis has stepped up and made some big plays for us the last couple of weeks and made contested catches; and we have Jake Wieneke, who just catches touchdowns so far.

“That’s OK, I’m good with that.”

Of Wieneke’s five catches for 66  yards, two ended up in the end zone.


Antonio Pipkin, who started the season as the Alouettes top quarterback, will not be dressed against Edmonton.

“No, he’s not,” Jones said. “He’s just not all the way there and we don’t want to put him out there when he’s not at least close to 100 per cent.

“We assessed him this week and he will sit for this game.”

Pipkin was injured partway through Montreal’s season-opening 32-25 loss to the Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium.


On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge