TORONTO - Thank goodness they give a damn. And if that causes the Argonauts to get in each other's faces every so often, head coach Jim Barker doesn't have a problem.
In the crisp October air during practice on Thursday at the team's training facility at Erindale in Mississauga, defensive tackle Matthias Askew, signed this week to the practice roster, jostled with a couple of offensive linemen and grabbed one by the face-mask. Approximately 20 minutes later, star returner Chad Owens and backup cornerback Delroy Clarke, standing 50 yards apart, started yelling at one another. In no time, Owens, demonstrating the speed that has resulted in several touchdowns on returns this season, ran downfield to confront Clarke. The two were separated before the situation turned physical.
And about five minutes after that, Barker put a halt to drills, assembled his team near midfield and laced into Clarke and Owens, reminding them that mutual respect was paramount for success.
"I think it will be good for us to hit somebody else," Barker said after practice, referring to the Argos' game in Winnipeg against the Blue Bombers on Saturday afternoon. "It's guys really caring about their jobs -- a practice roster guy (Askew) trying to get on, a scout guy (Clarke) and a guy (Owens) who makes sure that he gets the look he needs to get. Chad took a big hit the other day (against Hamilton) on a kickoff return, and it's important to him the look they get is correct.
"Like I told them after practice, I'm glad they are hitting somebody else on Saturday."
Neither Owens nor Clarke agreed to speak to the media afterward.
It must be a somewhat strange time to be an Argonaut right now. The club is 7-8 and heads into the weekend on the verge of earning a playoff spot for the first time since 2007, but it's not all roses and rainbows. The offence isn't anywhere close to the point it should be with three games left in the regular season, and this is a team that has won just two games of its past eight.
But there was a time, say, last year, when the Argos wouldn't have cared so much to have glared at each other during practice. Despite the recent failures, this group still believes in itself.
The high emotions and short tempers aren't a bad thing, and by the time practice ended the players were singing Happy Birthday to defensive end Ronald Flemons. Before that, as quarterback Danny Brannagan eluded defenders, cheers grew louder until he completed a pass to Anthony Alridge, causing No. 1 quarterback Cleo Lemon to run toward Brannagan and give him a celebratory bump as other Argos hollered their approval.
"We're pissed about what has been happening the last couple of weeks with the losses and other stuff, and it just goes to show you that people are competing and are hungry," offensive lineman Rob Murphy said about the disagreements.
Since the loss to the Tiger- Cats a week ago, Barker has been working around the clock, staying at his office after most others are long gone, as he tries to come up with solutions. His players care as much as they do because they know their boss does, but Barker hasn't said a word about getting to the playoffs.
"We have not approached it like that at all," Barker said. "Playoff stuff is going to take care of itself. If B.C. and Edmonton win out, and we lose out, we are out of the playoffs and we would deserve to be. It's about progressing our passing game to a level so that when we get to Nov. 14 (the East semifinal versus Hamilton), we are ready to play."