All sweet for Lemon

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

In eight seasons as a professional football player, Cleo Lemon has gotten all dressed up as a quarterback.

And, for most of that time, he has had nowhere to go.

Lemon has spent most of that time on National Football League practice rosters or sidelines. But, it looks like that may all be about to change.

The 6-foot-3, 220 pounder from Mississippi may finally have found a football home.

"It's horse race," he said yesterday as the competition to become the next Toronto Argonauts' quarterback hit the quarter pole at training camp.

"I'm having so much fun here. It's just great to be back on the field playing. This is what I was looking for."

Nobody, including Lemon, is suggesting that he's got the starting job wrapped up before the first exhibition snap. But, reading between the sets at practice, he's definitely the prohibitive favourite.

Lemon is getting the majority of the reps. And, that hasn't happened on a regular basis since leaving Arkansas State.

Head coach Jim Barker was suitably evasive.

"There is good competition right now. There are days when Cleo has been the best and times when Dalton (Bell) has been best. Those two have earned the most reps. We'll see how they play," said Barker as the team prepares to open the exhibition schedule Sunday against Hamilton.

Queen's University grad Danny Brannagan and Ken Dorsey, who has been more impressive lately after a slow start, will all play.

It's early, but right now Dorsey and Brannagan look to be fighting for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart.

"Obviously you don't know how guys will respond until you get into a game," said Barker, "you want to see composure and ability to handle adversity."

Lemon's history would suggest he is able to do that.

Between 2002 and 2004 with San Diego and Baltimore he never stepped on the field.

Then, came three seasons as a backup to Trent Green in Miami. The last two years in Jacksonville and Baltimore he threw all of two passes. That's enough to make some guys look for alternative employment selling real estate.

But now there's a No. 1 on his jersey and someday soon he may be No. 1 in the hearts of success-starved Argos' fans.

Lemon has met the usual surprises stepping onto a CFL field. The defenders, he said, are quicker than many he experienced even in the NFL and the motion takes getting used to and yesterday he was introduced to the 20-second clock. The NFL allows twice that much time between plays.

"I'm learning something every day," he said.

Sometimes the hard way.

"He got the clock put on him. That changes everything. It goes very quickly, but to say whether a guy has adapted before he's stepped on the field (in a game) I'm not going to do that," Barker said.

"Every day he's learning something new, whether it's throwing the width of the field or whether it's getting the team out of the huddle in time, or getting the motion going correctly -- there's so many things.

"It's a daunting task for a young guy coming in."

Lemon has figured out one thing. This league can be both a quarterback's dream and a nightmare.

In the NFL, the play selection is often conservative and teams play not to lose. In the CFL it's pass, pass ... and when in doubt, pass some more.

"It's a great opportunity for me. I'm a quarterback and by nature if I could throw it every down, I would. To be able to that now is just fun," said Lemon, "it means you're always having to make decisions and with one less down there's less margin for error. There's definitely more pressure.

"One small mistake and it's a turnover or you're kicking field goals or punting instead of scoring touchdowns.

"But as a competitor that's the kind of situation you want to be in. It's why you play this game."

And it is why after eight years, the wait may finally have been worth it.

BILL.LANKHOF@SUNMEDIA.CA


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