Argos loaded with talent at QB

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:55 AM ET

Since training camp opened for the Argonauts the talk has been about the lack of experience at quarterback.

'Tis to laugh.

The Toronto Argonauts have more experience at the quarterback position than any other Canadian Football League team.

That's the surprising upside.

The downside is that much of that experience isn't playing quarterback these days.

It's running passing routes.

As the Argonauts attempt to rebuild an offence that was the laughing stock of the CFL last season, head coach Jim Barker now has a receiving corps that has size, speed and four former quarterbacks.

"No way did I want to switch," said Reggie McNeal, who moved to receiver with the Argos in 2009 after starring as a college quarterback at Texas A&M.

"It was rough for me. For one, I didn't want to do it. That was the worst part of it. I was a quarterback in my head and I wanted to stay a quarterback."

The move wasn't any easier for Jeremaine Copeland, who nine seasons into a star-studded CFL career admits he'd still rather be lining up behind centre.

Copeland spent two seasons at Tennessee in a backup role and expected to start his junior season.

One problem.

Some guy named Peyton Manning decided to stay for his senior year.

"I was hurt. I was probably the only one who was upset when he decided to stay. I felt I'd never play again. It worked out ... but I'd be lying if I said I didn't wish I could be lining up behind centre. Once you've been a quarterback, and in control everything, it's something you always want to do. You never really lose that."

Instead he would catch 103 passes for 1,301 yards and 10 touchdowns at Tennessee and win a national championship in 1998.

"I became (Manning's) No. 1 target. Being a former quarterback I think helps because I knew where he needed me to be. It shot me into a career. It pretty much made me who I am."

Then there's Jason Carter, a college quarterback at Texas A&M like McNeal.

Brandon Rideau was one of the top high school quarterbacks in Texas before moving to receiver.

"Four former QBs. It's interesting. I don't know if that's happened before," said Barker.

"I think it helps them understand what the quarterback is going through, the clock in his head, the importance of coming down with the ball when it is thrown your way. It is very rare to have that many quarterbacks in a receiving corps."

Barker laughed, "Maybe people better watch out for double passes because we could be throwing it all over the yard."

He better come up with something because an All Points Bulletin wouldn't have been able to find the Argos' offence last year.

In a 3-15 season, Toronto scored 26 touchdowns -- fewer than any other CFL team -- and at one point went a ridiculous six games between passing TDs.

The quarterbacks couldn't hit receivers and, when they did, the receivers couldn't hold on to the football.

When a Jeff Johnson, a fullback, blocking kind of guy, is tied for second on the team in touchdown receptions it can't be a good thing.

Barker inherited a team that was badly disorganized.

Not any more, said McNeal.

"The play calls are better, there's more motion. We're built for a fun, fast offence."

Of the 13 receivers who started camp, only five are back from last year: Mike Bradwell, Carter, Chad Lucas, Chad Rempel and McNeal. Rideaux is 6-foot-4 with good hands. Another first-year Argo, Jeff Webb is 6-foot-2, as is McNeal with Copeland coming in a shrimpish 6-foot-1.

"You don't see a group of receivers with this kind of size too often," said Copeland.

"But the great thing is with the size they've got speed, too. When you've got short guys you usually expect them to be fast. But we've got big guys with 4.4 and 4.3 speeds and it's always a plus when you can put the ball in the air up over a smaller DB."

And, if that experiment with the four new guys trying out for quarterback doesn't work, Copeland chuckles and limbers up his arm -- He's ready and eager and there's nobody named Peyton.

"The chemistry is a lot different than last year. We've already got a bond," said McNeal, flashing a cheeky grin.

"You can just tell everyone enjoys being around each other. We're having fun again."

Now if they could only win again.

BILL.LANKHOF@SUNMEDIA.CA


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