As the Saskatchewan Roughriders prepare to play the Redblacks in Ottawa on Thursday, most of the focus this week has been on quarterback Cody Fajardo getting his first CFL start.

However the key for the offense could be the offensive line, which is also missing some starters.

Left guard Brendon LaBatte has been on the injured list since training camp, and right guard Dariusz Bladek left mid-game when the Riders lost to Hamilton 23-17 in their season opener.

“It’s part of the game, guys get injured, and guys gotta step up and they gotta step up fast,” veteran right tackle Thaddeus Coleman said.

One of those players who will be stepping up is rookie Dakoda Shepley.

“Knowing that there’s a spot open, I think it just puts a little more pressue on you. Whether you let the pressure get to you or not, is up to you,” he said.

Shepley, the Riders first round draft pick in 2018, filled in when Bladek went down against the Ti-Cats. The 24-year-old is listed as the starter at right guard on Thursday, but head coach Craig Dickenson was critical of his play earlier in the week.

When asked what Shepley had shown to display that he was ready to step into the role as a starter, Dickenson responded, “he has not shown me that.”

Offensive line coach Stephen Sorrells said that Shepley, who was drafted by the NFL’s New York Jets, is still adapting to the Canadian game.

“He spent a year and a half training for the National Football League and it’s a different ball game down there. The defensive lineman not a yard off, so when you’re training that way for a year and a half, it takes some time to get accustomed back to that guy a yard off. Especially in pass protection of your sets and when you need to throw your hands is different.”

Offensive lineman Braden Schram is also listed to play. The Calgary Dinos alumnus spent most of training camp at center and left guard, but could play at right guard on Thursday.

“It’s different being next to Thad (Coleman) compared to being next to (Takoby) Cofield for sure. Cofield is a lot more vocal, and Thad expects you to know your stuff. Going next to Thad you have to be on par because he expects you to be on par,” Schram said.

Sorrells said Schram, who stared in last year’s Western Semi-final, has shown huge growth.

“When he came in last year, he’s probably improved the most out of anybody from the time he’s been here to right now.”

With quarterback protection a high priority after Zach Collaros sustained a hit to the head, Coleman thinks there’s no better time than the present for a young offensive lineman to be thrown into the action.

“It’s better to be put in the fire early in the season than late in the season when you’re trying to scramble. I mean next guy will be up and you know, have his shot.”

Kick off for the Riders and Redblacks game is at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday.