Boat afloat?

GERRY PRINCE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 6:29 AM ET

Has the Toronto Argonaut juggernaut gone sideways? The last time the Edmonton Eskimos faced the Boatmen, Damon Allen was behind centre and the Double Blue owned a 4-2-0 record.

Esks' pivot Jason Maas was knocked out of the game and Allen led Toronto to a 39-14 win over the defending Grey Cup champions.

A week later, Allen suffered a broken leg and Michael Bishop was handed the starting job by head coach Michael Clemons.

Bishop threw for over 300 yards and guided the Argos to a victory over Winnipeg in his first start after Allen went down.

But Bishop and Toronto's offence have sputtered since then. As a result, the Argos' record has dipped from 6-3-0 to 6-5-1, indicating a clear reversal of fortune in Allen's absence.

"We can't go in there expecting we're going to take over the game," offered Esks' defensive end Rahim Abdullah. "They've got a running back (in former Esk John Avery) who can make amazing plays.

"And they've got a quarterback who is young but who has great athletic ability. He may cut it on when he comes to play us."

In addition to passing for 300 yards versus Winnipeg, the fleet-footed Bishop juked and jived his way up field for another 96 yards.

With a cannon for an arm and great feet, Bishop is a definite threat. But after earning CFL offensive player of the week honours for his performance versus Winnipeg, the 28-year-old Kansas State product has blown hot and cold.

As a result, Clemons gave Bishop the hook in two of his last three starts. Bishop was ice-cold in his last outing which, ironically, was also against Winnipeg.

He completed just nine of 25 pass attempts for a 159 yards and threw a pair of picks in a 44-34 loss.

On the year, Bishop has completed 54 of 122 passes and owns a 44.3 completion percentage. The six-foot-one, 228-pound pivot has chucked 10 interceptions and two touchdowns.

Another knock on Bishop is his seeming inability to stick to the script. Rather than work within the pages of the playbook, the lanky Texan has a penchant for improvising.

In either case, Bishop presents the Esks defenders with a substantial challenge on two fronts.

"He's a big guy and he's fast," Abdullah said. "Watching film the other day, I was saying how fast he was.

"He was a great player at K-State. If he can settle down and play like he's capable of playing, he'd be one of the best quarterbacks in this league.

"Maybe the playbook is a little too hard for him. I don't know what it is. He is a great quarterback and he has great athletic abilities. He just needs to put all that together and play football."

Bishop was reportedly on the verge of losing the starting job this week. However, Clemons' only other options are former Calgary Stampeder Romaro Miller and rookie Scott Krause.

Miller's relief stint versus the Blue Bombers last week was sandwiched between Bishop's less-than-stellar effort that was highlighted by an apparent series of miscommunications with his receivers.

Should that trend continue tomorrow, the Esks could catch a break with cornerback Darrel Crutchfield now slated to sit out.

According to head coach Tom Higgins, the Clemson product's tender right knee took a pounding on B.C. Place Stadium's artificial turf and rookie Steven Marsh will be moved to the corner.

The possibility of Bishop launching any number of unguided missiles could make for an easy night at the office and have the Esks' secondary pickin' and grinnin' yet again.

Despite the fact no other CFL club has scored fewer points, completed fewer passes or generated fewer yards offence, Esks defensive halfback Donny Brady says the Argos are not to be taken lightly.

"We're playing the Toronto Argonauts; we're not playing statistics," said Brady, who has three picks on the season. "We can't rely on what statistcs say. Every game is different.

"They're getting paid, too. Just as long as they're out there wearing that Toronto Argonaut uniform, I couldn't care less if it was Damon Allen or a first-year player."

"They're all guys we've got to contain. As a defensive player, you've got to stop whoever is in front of you."

POINTS AFTER: Crutchfield coming off this week creates a roster spot for veteran defensive end Kelvin Kinney. Kinney has only played in five of the Esks 13 games this season and has been a health scratch the last five games. Rookie fullback Gilles Lezi also comes off the roster to make room for fullback Mathieu Bertrand in a straight-up switch of non-imports.


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