TORONTO - The smarty-pants critics are sniping that head coach Jim Barker wouldn’t know a real quarterback from Cleo Lemon.
They’re on his case about an offence that keeps losing a wheel, and none of it surprises the head coach of the Argonauts.
“I know there’s an uproar,” Barker said yesterday, after the club lost on Saturday to absorb its fifth loss in six games. But with the trade deadline approaching and practice rosters expanding today, there will be mostly just the status quo.
No panic moves. Barker is just telling his boys to hold the line, he’s preaching patience and he’s proving his point by bringing Lemon back against the Saskatchewan Roughriders this weekend.
Barker refuses to get into a situation where he’s backing away from his choice of No. 1 quarterback.
“I think (former Winnipeg Blue Bombers coach) Mike Kelly signed his death certificate when he did that with Stefan Lefors. I’m doing this the way its got to be done. I think that is one of the things that has hurt the development of quarterbacks because coaches know their jobs are on the line. I don’t have to worry about that ... I know I’m getting fired. It’s just a matter of when.
So, while the offence is ticking like a time bomb, and the public is muttering, the head coach is adamant that the Double Blue football universe is unfolding as it should.
While the statistics show an offence that ranks as the CFL weak sister, Barker sees a team that is working through its growing pains. Sometimes growing pains hurt.
“It’s not easy to be patient. It’s why you see so much turnover in the game but ... I’m going to have the patience,” Barker said. “Going into the season we didn’t know what we’d have. The last five games and the playoffs will tell that tale.”
After that he will reassess. Not now. Lemon in his first season in the CFL has not been horrible. The team was bringing in new receivers and a new running back and revamping the offence. It has resulted in the fewest points (259) of any team in the league. It gets even more anemic when you consider the kicking game and special teams have contributed 144 of those points. So, after Week 14, is this team where Barker imagined it would be?
Barker notes injuries to key players have hampered progress. Like one to Jeremaine Copeland, who hasn’t been as effective as he was in Calgary. Chad Owens has been the spark on the special teams but it hasn’t translated into similar yardage as a receiver. Offence runs on chemistry and the Argos are still trying to perfect their own formula.
“Obviously you’d hope to be a bit further along but we had injuries. While we haven’t progressed as far as I’d wished; to be tied for second place and hosting a playoff game in your control that’s what’s important. We have five games to get ourselves playoff-ready.”
But the past six games don’t inspire a lot of confidence. The team has failed to score more thjan 17 points in any one of them. Asked to assess that performance, Barker vacillated: “That’s a loaded question,” he said, paused, then: “It is a fair question. I’m not at all happy with the production. I don’t think we’ve done a good job in the score zone. I think we’re evolving into where we’re getting all the players we need. Cory Boyd (who’d been sidelined with a concussion) added a lot to our offence last week. It was the first time we had Reggie (McNeal), James Robinson, who’s young and learning. The weeks before we’ve gone through some pitfalls but it’s all part of our growing process. It’s all about where are we today and where are we going to be tomorrow. We learn from the past but we don’t dwell on it.”
The team is bringing in quarterback Matt Grother, but he’s a long-term project and if he gets anywhere near the field this year this team is going to need more patience than even Barker might be able to muster.
Owens sees a team on the cusp of better, bigger things. “I don’t think there’s anything missing as far as pieces to the puzzle. We have everything here already. We just need to execute at a better level. We’re in a lot of these ball games. We have great talent on this team, good leadership, anytime you have that you should be winning games.”