Shawn Lemon, Keith Shologan & Redblacks D-line ready for Masoli's fleet feet

Shawn Lemon, Keith Shologan & Redblacks D-line ready for Masoli's fleet feet

Shawn Lemon is more about putting down roots than getting his hand down in a three-point stance.

Reunited with Rick Campbell, who was his defensive coordinator in Calgary before becoming Ottawa's head coach, the rush end believes he is peaking at an opportune time ahead of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats-Redblacks East final on Sunday. Lemon had an easing-in period after signing in Ottawa following NFL trials as a linebacker with Pittsburgh and San Francisco, but contributed to the Redblacks' 7-2 finish with five sacks in a half-season.

"It's more of a family atmosphere and these guys mesh well together," Lemon said after Thursday's practice at TD Place, where Ottawa will have a sellout crowd of 25,000-plus. "We spend a lot  of time together outside of football.

"I know what coach Campbell is about and I know his coaching philosophy from our time in Calgary," added Lemon, who had 13 sacks for the Grey Cup-winning 2014 Stampeders. "That's one thing he wanted to implement here, and it has been showing. We led the league in sacks in Calgary when he was D coordinator there; we've led the league in sacks here. His philosophy on and off the field helps a lot. He is a good people's person. He cares about players off the field just as much as on the field. With a coach like that, you will go to bat for him."

A brief rewind: on Aug. 30 the Redblacks went above .500 for good by beating Saskatchewan  at home, but lost short-side defensive end Aston Whiteside to a season-ending knee injury. Fortutitiously for the Redblacks, Lemon soon became available and signed through 2016. Lining up on the edge, the 27-year-old Akron alumnus quickly fit into the first level. 

"Linebacker in a 3-4 defence is basically the same as a D-end up here," the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Lemon said. "I just wanted to come in here and build up to this point. The coaches did a good job and I did a good job of understanding that this is the time when I want to be peaking to now is when I'm producing my best football."

Essentially, Ottawa got a dozen sacks from each starting end, between former expansion draft pickup Justin Capicciotti's tally on the wide side plus Whiteside and Lemon's combined total. The group appears to be better than the sum of its parts as it embarks on playing at home against the Ticats, the banged-up team but one with more collective playoff experience.

"We're one big group that plays well together," defensive tackle Keith Shologan said. "The 4 D-tackles [Shologan and fellow Canadian Zack Evans, internationals Moton Hopkins and Jonathan Williams] are all high-motor, very fundamental and technique-sound. We  mesh very well. The way we do our twists, all four of us tackles have learned to do them. When we brought Shawn in, we were able to work him very well into our stunts. 

"You have to learn how to play with each guy," said Shologan, who earned a Grey Cup ring two seasons ago with Saskatchewan. "We have done a good job of that."

The Redblacks' defensive line will have a unique challenge facing Masoli. In its last-play East semifinal win against Toronto, the Ticats put Masoli in a NCAA-style rushing scheme heavy on zone reads and the inverted veer, styled on what he operated for the Oregon Ducks when he played for Chip Kelly, who is now the Philadelphia Eagles coach-GM. Halfback C.J. Gable had 15 rushes for 89 yards and Masoli chipped in 12 rushes for 58 and a touchdown to help Hamilton knock off the Argonauts.

'Can't over-overplay them'

Both plays are predicated on getting defensive linemen to overcommit or overpursue. Lemon and Ottawa had a taste of that when Masoli came off the bench in the regular-season finale, guiding the Ticats to a 20-point second quarter before their offence was shut out in the final 30 minutes.

"It's a good challenge but we just continue to stick to all the stuff that we have been doing," Lemon said. "Just execute as fast as possible. You just have to be very disciplined — if your assignment is to stay outside, then stay outside, or go inside if it's to go inside. The least thing can put you out of whack."

Shologan added that it's important not to get caught up in the riddle posed by a dual-threat QB such as Masoli.

"The big things that are outside the box, we have to let ourselves rally to that and let our athletes take care of that," he said. "But you still play fundamental football. A lot of times, if you want to focus on those little things, then the fundamentals and basics are what hurts you. You can start to overthink stuff. You still look for the cues and tendencies, but you can't over-overplay them and have to stick to your base defense."

To an outsider, the Redblacks seemed loose at TD Place on Thursday, far removed from the stereotype of a first-time playoff team in uncharted waters. The playfulness was evident when left tackle SirVincent Rogers answered post-practice questions and Lemon lurked nearby, in what's been an ongoing larf between linemen on each side of the ball.

"We're excited for the opportunity we have as a team and for the city," Lemon said. "It's big having a chance to do this [make the Grey Cup] as an expansion team in our second year."

That's how fast football changes. which is probably why a player also likes a little permanency every now and again. 

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @naitSAYger.