Lemon a career loser

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:49 PM ET

HAMILTON -- Don't take this the wrong way, but Cleo Lemon is a loser.

No judgment call here, just a statement of fact based on what is going on 13 years of getting the crap beat out of him as a quarterback, first in college and now as a pro.

This has little to do with his latest lesson in three-down football either, Monday's 28-13 loss to the Tiger-Cats in an environment that had to be unlike anything he has seen in his football life.

It wouldn't be a surprise if Lemon is a decent CFL quarterback some day, especially if he continues to adapt and learn how the game is played in a foreign (to him) land.

But from the time he threw his first NCAA pass at Arkansas State more than 13 years ago, Lemon has been a loser everywhere he went.

In college, it was four seasons with a combined record of 11-34.

In the NFL, he was on the roster of four teams but started only eight games in which he had all of one win on a miserable Miami Dolphins team.

It isn't much of a stretch then, to suggest that heading to the Hammer on Labour Day, Lemon was playing in one of the most meaningful contests of his career.

For the first time as a pro, he had a real shot of leading a first-place team. Instead, he came up with a result all too familiar.

"(The struggles) are part of it," Lemon said after his first introduction to the Oskee-wee-wees down the QEW. "We're putting this thing together."

The case for and against Lemon is not an easy one to grade this early in his CFL career. When coach Jim Barker cleared the decks of veteran quarterbacks to make room for him, there was little doubt that Lemon would be part project, part prospect.

Monday at Ivor Wynne Stadium, he was both.

His 31 completions on 43 attempts for 334 yards were all highs in his CFL career. So too, sadly, were his three interceptions. And in the past two games -- both losses to a Ticats team he may need to learn to hate a little more as his career progresses -- Lemon has led the Argos' offence to one lonely touchdown.

"Obviously throwing three interceptions is not part of the learning process," Barker said of his 31-year-old rookie.

In Lemon's case, learning to win consistently may be the most challenging exercise in his development here, a feeling that has been a rare one in his career of top-tier ball.

His four-year college career at Arkansas State went much like his afternoon did on Monday. Balanced against the bucket load of school records he set with his arm was the win-loss record.

In his defence, Lemon was stuck on a team known for a terrible offensive line and easy pickings for Division 1 powerhouses such as Mississippi, Georgia and Louisiana State in non-conference games.

The NFL experience wasn't any more uplifting, either. The only relevant stint of his five seasons on three rosters was the eight games he started for Miami.

That bulk of that run took place in 2007 when Lemon took over an 0-5 Dolphins team and led them to eight more losses before recording his lone NFL win -- a 22-16 score over the Baltimore Ravens late in the season.

How rough was it? In three games against the Buffalo Bills -- who weren't exactly tearing up the AFC in '06 and '07 -- Lemon couldn't get a "W."

None of this makes Lemon a bad person or even a bad quarterback. Quite likely he is just a guy who has had the ongoing misfortune of a career stuck on bad football teams.

Now that the CFL season is getting serious, we'll start to get a clearer idea on what role he plays on a team looking to be the opposite.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca on twitter @longleysunsport


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