Pass protection

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:11 AM ET

The countdown to the Khari Jones era is on. It shouldn't be. Not yet, anyway.

Make no mistake, the recent addition of the former CFL MVP represented the single-greatest moment the Calgary Stampeders have experienced the last three years.

That said, it makes no sense to start him next Saturday when the Stamps play their final home game of this sorry season.

First of all, there's still plenty of worry over the status of his injured shoulder, which has hampered him throughout the season and sidelined him the last six weeks.

While Khari, the coaches and team doctors have been monitoring him closely since he hit the practice field Wednesday, there's no point in taking any chances with his $330,000 arm hinged by a tender joint.

Given their humiliating 3-12 record,

next Saturday's game against the Toronto Argonauts is meaningless for the Stampeders, who did well to clinch their third-straight playoff-less season with a month left.

Given the lack of talent and cohesion around him, a start by Jones is destined for disaster, ruining the marketing mystique his acquisition represented for a club that just sent out season-ticket renewals.

For the first time in years, there is a hint of optimism -- a glimmer of hope -- Jones may be the key to returning the Stamps to respectability. Why risk erasing all that with what could very well be a devastating debut?

Another lopsided loss or an injury to Jones' tender wing would only raise more questions for sullen Stamps supporters who want to believe Jones can make a major impact next year.

The very real possibility of seeing him booed off the field by frustrated fans will do more harm than good in the ticket office this winter.

With his confidence shaken in Winnipeg and only six practices to learn a piecemeal playbook, Jones is being put in a prime position to fail.

It makes little sense for a club that must use the final three games strictly as auditions for next season.

No one doubts Jones will be the club's starter in 2005.

So why not use next Saturday's game to help determine the future of backups Michael Souza, Tommy Jones or Tommy Denison?

Let their marquee pivot watch from the bench and get a feel for coach Matt Dunigan's sideline style and play-calling.

Let Jones put his nightmarish season behind him and start working with Dunigan on designing an offence built around his strengths.

At the very least, give him an extra week to rest his shoulder and acquaint himself with his teammates and the offence.

If Dunigan still feels the need to start Jones this season, shield him from a stadium full of expectations and start him on the road.

Insisting his shoulder has responded well to the first two practices at McMahon, Jones hardly would say otherwise, given his gritty nature and the fact he wants to get his career back on track.

Keep in mind when he arrived here last Tuesday, he couldn't throw overhand.

Still, he obviously wants the ball. The only upside to starting Jones would be the faint possibility he could lead a convincing win over the Argos -- something the Stamps proved in Toronto they're essentially incapable of doing.

As part of his team's uphill climb from the doldrums, Dunigan has been asking for fans to be patient.

We'll find out next Saturday if he'll practise what he preaches by sitting Jones.

To date, the Stamps boss has developed a real knack for making bad decisions.

Let's see if he gets this one right.


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