Anyone who has ever transferred in their job knows it can be a stressful experience. You work with new people and learn different ways to do things.
Right tackle Patrick Kabongo understood there would be some changes when he signed with the B.C. Lions after injuries cut a swath through the defending Grey Cup champion's offensive line. He probably didn't expect handcuffs to be part of the routine.
Kabongo spent part of practices during training camp with his massive mitts in rubberized handcuffs. It's one of offensive line coach Dan Dorazio's methods to try and reduce the number of holding penalties called on the eight-year CFL veteran.
"I'm learning a lot of new techniques,'' said Kabongo, who was released by the Edmonton Eskimos over the winter in a cost-saving move. "Coach D is doing a great job with me. It's been a lot of learning.''
A giant of a man who reaches six-foot-six and has weighed up to 389 pounds, Kabongo stands out even in a crowd of football players. He often used his size to push defensive lineman around, but some lazy habits crept into his game.
He was benched last season for what the Eskimos believed was an excessive amount of holding calls. Kabongo eventually played his way back into favour and head coach Kavis Reed praised him as the team's best offensive lineman.
Still, Dorazio isn't taking any chances and is using the handcuffs to arrest any problems.
"It helps to keep your hands inside,'' said Kabongo, who will turn 33 before the Lions open the regular season Friday against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. "That's a thing the coach wanted me to do.
"It's been going pretty well. It's a learning curve every day.''
Another method used by Dorazio is having players knead small rubber balls in their hands. The idea is they keep their hands tight to their body.
Lions coach Mike Benevides didn't grapple with the question when asked about Kabongo's history of being flagged for using his hands.
"Along the way he has had his fair share,'' said Benevides. "But if you play the position long enough you are going to get some of those.
"He's got attention for that during his career. You are talking about a man that is a huge human being that has played at a decent level and has been an all-star. If you play long enough you are going to get those calls.''
Kabongo was on the Lions' radar since being released by Edmonton. He got the call early in training camp after Dean Valli, Jesse Newman and Jon Hameister-Ries all suffered knee injuries.
The injury bug struck again when Kabongo aggravated a thigh injury in the Lions' 24-16 exhibition win over Edmonton Thursday night. The Lions expect him to return to practice this week.
In Kabongo the Lions gained a player who was a CFL all-star in 2008, and named to the CFLPA all-star time in 2007. In 2009 he was the Eskimos' nominee for outstanding offensive lineman and top Canadian.
"Any time you bring a guy in and need them to perform pretty quickly you want to have a veteran,'' said Benevides. “Since he's been here he has worked very hard.
"He's very coachable, very eager, self-motivated. He's done a nice job trying to acclimate himself to what we do.''
Kabongo was thrilled another team gave him an opportunity. The fact it's the Grey Cup champions is an added bonus.
"It was a blessing,'' he said. "It was an opportunity to come and play with a great team.''
The theory behind being an offensive lineman is simple. Protect the quarterback, open holes for the running back. The practice of doing that is much harder.
Benevides has been impressed with Kabongo's ability to learn the Lions' system.
"Offensive line is the most technical position on the field,'' said Benevides. "There are so many different elements. He's an eight-year veteran. He has certain things we want to try and break him of in terms of habits and get habits forming in the way we do thing.
"He was with an organization for a long time. They did things a certain way, ran a certain system. Our system is different, not only from an offensive scheme but also from what we want technically and fundamentally from the offensive line. There is a serious adjustment he is going through. He's done a very nice job of it so far. You can't deny his work ethic.''
Kabongo was born in Zaire. His family moved to Montreal to avoid a bloody civil war. He attended Vanier Collegiate in Montreal before heading to the University of Nebraska as a defensive lineman.
After college Kabongo had a tryout with the NFL Detroit Lions but signed with Ottawa in 2004 as a free agent. He was traded to Edmonton that August and played there until being released in January.
During his career Kabongo's weight has fluctuated like the stock market. He once shed 74 pounds and claims to be around 347 pounds now.
"Last year Edmonton wanted me to be lighter,'' he said. "I feel good playing at this weight.''
As long as Kabongo does his job, Benevides has no problem with his waist line.
"He's performing pretty well so it doesn't really bother me that much,'' he said.
Some players might have taken being released as an insult. Kabongo let the decision roll off his considerable back.
"It's just business,'' he said. "You have to ride the wave.
"I have no hard feelings.''