MONCTON - Reggie McNeal, until approximately 31/2 months ago, had no idea what the psoas muscle was or where it was located.
The Argonauts receiver knows plenty about it now, though, and he wants to forget all that he has learned. After starting 20 games for the Boatmen in the past two seasons, McNeal finally will be in the lineup on Sunday, just in time for the historic Touchdown Atlantic.
During training camp, McNeal suffered an injury to his psoas muscle, which contributes to flexion and external rotation in the hip joint. He tried to come back from it too early and wound up being placed on the nine-game injured list in Week 3.
“It has been a long 13 weeks,” McNeal said after the Argos practised at Rocky Stone Field. “Cold tub, hot tub, acupuncture, just constant. It’s so deep inside, it’s about all you can do with it.”
The short of it is fairly simple: McNeal’s presence among the receivers will give head coach Jim Barker what he had envisioned when he started putting his puzzle together. Jeremaine Copeland returned last week and caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Cleo Lemon in the fourth quarter of a victory against Winnipeg, and lanky James Robinson has been settling into a groove.
Running back Cory Boyd is doubtful, at best, as he recovers from concussion, but offensive linemen Rob Murphy and Cedric Gagne-Marcoux are expected to play. Minus Boyd, it’s the closest thing Barker has had to a healthy offence since the season started.
“Cleo stepped up (during practice on Thursday) and it was almost like (Lemon was thinking), ‘Wow, all my toys are almost back,’ ” Barker said. “We will get Reggie going and hopefully he will be able to pick up where he left off last year. He did some good things.”
McNeal was granted free agency last February by Toronto and landed tryouts with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers. Barker had liked what he saw when he watched film of McNeal from last season, and re-signed McNeal, who turned 27 on Monday, in June.
Lemon, of course, hasn’t worked with McNeal in a regular-season game, but the two quickly should become buddies on the field. McNeal was converted to receiver from quarterback two years ago by the Argos, and former head coach Rich Stubler used to say that McNeal was the best pure athlete the Argos had.
“Reggie is going to be a force,” Lemon said. “He thinks like a quarterback, and it makes a difference. Some people might say it doesn’t, but when you have held that ball in the pocket and you know the time clock is running and you have to get it out, those guys are on the same page with you. And that’s a comfort.”
Copeland once was a quarterback as well, backing up Peyton Manning at the University of Tennessee before making the switch to receiver. Though his best years might be behind him, Copeland remains a prolific threat.
“It does help,” Barker said. “They understand what the quarterback is going through back there, and it helps them in running routes and understanding coverages.”
Will there be an offensive explosion for the Argos against the CFL’s worst team? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves as the Boatmen offence has accumulated the fewest yards in the league and hasn’t scored 20 points in any of the past four games.
But the potential is greater.
“We just like what we have going on right now,” Lemon said, “and the most important thing is to come out and execute on Sunday. The pieces are starting to come into place.”