TORONTO - Reporters at Argonauts practice on Monday felt the unmistakable rub of stubble on their cheeks, which could have meant only one thing.
Defensive tackle Adriano Belli, famous for his daily greeting of a quick kiss, was back, ready to assume his starting position on Friday night when the Argos visit the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Belli took it upon himself to enter the locker room of the Montreal Alouettes prior to the 2009 regular-season finale, and for that and a few other things was suspended by Canadian Football League commissioner Mark Cohon for the Argos’ 2010 opener in Calgary.
Argos head coach Jim Barker seems resigned to the idea that making Belli toe the line is about as easy as convincing Lady Gaga to put on a T-shirt and a pair of jeans before going out in public.
But that doesn’t mean Barker has given up on Belli, who took anger management classes during the off-season.
“Adriano is Adriano,” Barker said. “There is good, there is bad. We work on a constant basis.
“He knows every time he does something, that he is, basically, I don’t want to say he is betraying me, but he is hurting his entire team. We have made it abundantly clear to him that is what he is doing.”
Belli has let his emotions fog his on-field decision-making and has been prone to taking unnecessary penalties. Fact is, though, he hurts his team more when he does not play, because he is such a vital member of the defence. You can bet Barker has no interest in going over the same things about Belli at any point during the remainder of the season.
“Adriano does not do (things) with malice intent,” Barker said. “We have to get to the point where he thinks prior to doing something, not as he is doing it.”
Belli, sweat dripping as he walked off the field at Erindale following a two-hour practice in the sweltering heat, acknowledged that being forced by the league to watch his teammates play from comfort of his home was hard to bear.
“You don’t want to stay home and watch on TV,” Belli said, “but obviously the commissioner had to do a few things to set a precedent.
“Like always, I play on the line, and when it is good it is good, and when it is bad, it is bad. I’m not going to change the way I play, but I have to be cautious. The refs are after me, but they have a job to do as well. I’m going to try to crush the quarterback as many times as I can, and be a good boy doing it.”
Belli’s contribution to the defence is noticeable. He worked well with Kevin Huntley and defensive end Ronald Flemons in 2009, as the three had 20 sacks among them. But he tested then-coach Bart Andrus early, to the point that Andrus compared him to a WWE wrestler.
“He gives us a little more size, great experience,” Barker said. “He brings a run-to-the-ball energy that nobody else can do.
“It’s just him, the way he plays, one of the good things that Adriano brings.”
Belli already was looking ahead to going up against Blue Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce, who has had concussion issues. Pierce will be a challenge, coming off a week where he made short work of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats defence.
“He is just another quarterback,” Belli said. “He looks cute in his uniform, and supposedly he has a soft melon, so we will try to get after him.”