Boatmen pickin' it up

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

No wonder Jim Barker didn't have the answer.

The Argonauts head coach spent five years in the front office of the Calgary Stampeders and couldn't remember a game in which quarterback Henry Burris threw four interceptions prior to Wednesday night, when Toronto had four picks and nearly a fifth.

That's because it happened only one other time, back in 2000, when Burris was with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and making his third CFL start.

That season, Barker was thousands of miles away, filling the duties of the offensive co-ordinator with something called the Los Angeles Xtreme of the XFL.

Why were the Argos able to step up and make four interceptions -- two by linebacker Kevin Eiben, who got the game ball from his teammates, and one each by safety Willie Pile and rookie cornerback Evan McCollough? There were a number of factors.

That the Stamps had a tight window on the road after playing last Saturday in Hamilton, meaning there was little time to prepare, aided.

But there was more to it than that.

Only because the entire defence worked as one was it able to snare almost half as many interceptions as it had all of last season (11).

"It really helps you because you know what route combinations they are going to run and you are able to run coverages that are going to put people in those spots," Barker said. "So there were not a lot of holes for him. Our guys basically did a great job of breaking on the football.

"A lot of credit goes to the defensive line because they pressured the pocket, pushed the pocket. They had nowhere to move around. With (Adriano) Belli and (Kevin) Huntley pushing that back, you could tell he felt uncomfortable.

"The biggest thing for us defensively was our guys played more like we did early in training camp in terms of the swagger to get interceptions."

The victory wasn't just on the defence and the picks.

The offensive line protected quarterback Cleo Lemon well, and he had time to make his reads. Cory Boyd got 142 yards on the ground, and part of that came from the effort of the offensive line.

Barker's club has a long way to go before it establishes a true identity, but it's trying. Already there are signs, as this team has shown more gumption than it did in 18 games a year ago. Remember that the Argos were losing by 11 points late in the third quarter to a Calgary team that beat them by 14 on Canada Day.

The Argos players have three days off before returning to practice on Monday to start beefing up for next Friday's game at home against David Braley's other CFL team, the B.C. Lions. But on a rare weekend off, it probably will continue to sink in among the group that is building toward something, not foundering.

The 2-1 record is flattering and covers up some mistakes and a green offence, but if growth continues, by the end of the season, no one will remember how the first two wins were accomplished.

"Developing a team that never wants to quit, has a tremendous amount of heart, and does what they have to do to win games," Barker said.

"I think we are going to be looked at as a team that plays with great heart. Yeah, we are evolving, and yeah, we are young, but we are doing things the right way. And we are not going to beat ourselves. Those are things you have to become."

TERRY.KOSHAN@SUNMEDIA.CA


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