Whenever an injury happens to the Roughriders offensive line, the team often looks to LaBatte to move from his left guard position to save them. The 32-year-old, who is entering his 12th season in the CFL, is currently the club’s starting centre after Dan Clark was injured in a single vehicle car crash on May 7.
“It is a great feeling to be versatile enough that they feel comfortable to just move you over, and they keep the expectations the same,” said LaBatte, who was named the CFL’s most outstanding offensive lineman in 2013. “Kind of for myself, I feel like there is a lot less pressure when I am playing out of position from my natural position.
“I enjoy it. It is fun to go over and see the game from a different perspective and have to be a little more vocal and kind of get to showcase some of my experiences and some of the things that I have learned while playing this game.
“When you are the centre and you are making the call, you are able to direct the guys and use what you know a little bit more.”
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LaBatte is expected to take starters reps when the Roughriders open their pre-season schedule Friday in Calgary against the Stampeders.
The Roughriders are hoping Clark is ready to return when the team opens the regular season on June 13 against the Tiger-Cats in Hamilton. Until then, LaBatte is the man in the middle of Saskatchewan’s offensive line.
The Weyburn, Sask., native has filled in at centre before, but he is gearing up for a possible longer stay at the position this time during the squad’s training camp in Saskatoon.
“It has been going pretty good,” LaBatte said. “Outside of my rookie year, it has probably been the most challenged I’ve been as an O-lineman just trying to learn a new position.
“I’ve kind of had to take a few steps back and go through some of the learning pains again and take few beats and learn a little bit. I’ve played it in the past, but I’ve always just kind of been a spare tire that has flipped everything into just being a left guard while playing centre. This year, I’ve really tried to learn the position. I’ve probably grown quite a bit as a football player this camp.”
LaBatte said his 11 seasons in the league are an asset when he has to call out the plays and adjustments on the line.
“I think the experience that I have is helping me out quite a bit in that respect,” LaBatte said. “I haven’t had too many looks that have completely thrown me for a loop.
“The last few years, even though I wasn’t saying much, I was still kind of seeing the game as a centre. Now, I am just having to verbalize it a little more. It really hasn’t been too much of a change in terms of making the calls.”
Roughriders first year head coach Craig Dickenson said LaBatte’s versatility has been important to the club.
“It is big, because he is playing centre now,” Dickenson said. “When we get (Dan) Clark back, he (LaBatte) can go back to guard.
“LaBatte is a leader on this team. His presence is very valuable to our club.”
Dickenson said the fact LaBatte is able to step in and play centre show how important Canadian offensive lineman are to a CFL team and the game.
“The teams that have the best Canadian linemen have the most versatility and the most options,” Dickenson said. “We’re going to continue to stockpile that position.
“We’ll always be looking for good Canadian linemen.”
While the Roughriders have a new head coach and a few changes on the team, LaBatte said optimism is high the club can do big things this season on the offensive side of the ball.
“The expectations are to be productive on offence,” LaBatte said. “We have a big group returning, so there is a lot of carry over there.
“We expect our communication to be advanced from where we started last year. If we can start off how we finished off last year, we have the ability to go out and win it all and make a difference on offence.”