The ratio in the CFL is a truly unique - and sometimes headache-inducing - model of proportional roster shuffling, and sometimes, especially in times of widespread injury, it hamstrings head coaches and forces them to juggle their lineups.
With Canadian offensive linemen Steve Morley, Marc Parenteau, and Paul Swiston, along with American imports Shannon Boatman and Andre Douglas all out due to injury, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will start three imports on the offensive front against the B.C. Lions.
"It's a little bit peculiar, but you know what, it's not completely unheard of," said seven-year veteran tackle Glenn January, whose return from a one-week ankle ailment is a welcome reprieve. "I know that the year before I got to Toronto, they did it. I know that Edmonton has done it this year. They've played American guards in Montreal. So if the injury bug starts to bite you, you're going to have to make some moves."
Because of that bug, the club is now forced to start three Canadian receivers - namely Akeem Foster, Rory Kohlert, and Jade Etienne - or line up Canadians Carl Vony at running back or Michel-Pierre Pontbriand at fullback. On the depth chart, Terrence Edwards is listed as a backup behind Etienne.
"Right now, we're pretty devastated by injury. We've got a lot of guys who are a couple games away from coming back," added January. "Hopefully, we can get Steve Morley back on the field here soon, but you kind of have to play the hand you're dealt and right now, that's what we're looking at. You've got a couple of good, young, talented Americans that have come in here and picked up the game fairly quickly. So it'll be interesting to see if we're able to go out there and establish the line of scrimmage like we hope we are going to be able to."
The team signed American offensive tackles Dan Knapp and Jarvis Jones and started them last week following just two days of practice. This week, Jones moves from right to left tackle, while Knapp moves inside to right guard.
"We've struggled on the offensive line this year," said head coach Tim Burke. "We're continually trying to upgrade and I think that upgrades us both in the run game and in the pass protection part of the game. We were happy with the way the two new guys played last week, and then obviously Glenn (January) is a stalwart journeyman kind of guy."
On the defensive side of the ball, the team has elected to start veteran corner Jovon Johnson at safety for the struggling Cauchy Muamba again, forcing the team to juggle the lineup to appease the league-mandated ratio.
"By putting Jovon Johnson at safety, a position that was played by a Canadian (Cauchy Muamba) before, you need to put one more Canadian somewhere else," said Pierre-Luc Labbe, who makes his first official start of the season this week. "So I'm the lucky one who goes to middle linebacker and they'll put Henoc (Muamba) at (weak side linebacker)."
"I played a lot last week," added the Quebec-native Labbe. "It was already planned like this, to put me in on first down most of the time, and on second and short, too. I've been lucky enough to get a lot of playing time last week."
Labbe may prove to be a welcome veteran presence on one of the youngest units in the league.
"I'm the oldest player on defence here at 29," added Labbe. "That is what coach (Casey) Creehan has been focusing on this week; we had a lot of positives in the last game, even if we lost in overtime, I think the first four quarters were solid. We had chances to just finish and close that game and get away with a win, and we just didn't capitalize. So I think we lost that game more than they won it."
Notes: Linebacker/defensive back Johnny Sears, who has been on the nine-game injured list with a foot ailment "should be ready next week" according to Burke. Sears lined up at strong side linebacker and halfback in practice this week... Slotback Cory Watson has been kept out of the lineup with a hamstring injury. Burke says "I think he'll be ready next week as well."... Running back Chad Simpson (foot) saw doctors again this week, but his participation in practice has been wildly inconsistent... O-lineman Andre Douglas, who remains on the nine-game with a leg injury, practiced fully this week. There is no timetable for his return... O-linemen Marc Parenteau (neck) and Shannon Boatman (multiple injuries) have been placed on the nine-game injured list... Canadian O-lineman Tyson Pencer, who made his first two professional starts in the back-to-backs against Edmonton, will be a likely scratch this week. Burke said he is "still not ready for prime time." When asked if the 2012 third-overall draft pick should be ready by now, Burke simply answered, "yes."