Bishop's dilemma

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:55 AM ET

It could be much ado about nothing, or it could mean everything.

If quarterback Damon Allen starts every game for the Argos this season and plays well, it won't matter who backs him up. But what if he suffers an injury, as has been the case the past two seasons? Then the Argos' chances of defending as Grey Cup champions will be severely compromised.

The Argos began training camp yesterday with Allen, who will turn 42, as the starter, a position he has earned by virtue of what he did in last year's Grey Cup game, in which he was named the most valuable player.

But right now, he has two rookie backups -- Scott Covington and Charlie Peterson -- and it's far too early at this point to gauge their abilities. But if you harken back to 1998, when veteran Kerwin Bell suffered an injury in the pre-season and the Argos had to begin the regular season with rookies Jay Barker and Nealon Greene -- and both struggled -- then history suggests there is reason to be concerned.

There's still uncertainty about Michael Bishop, who is absent with leave while he sorts out his future, which involves the Arena League's Grand Rapids Rampage. He just finished a second season with them and his first as their starter. While there had been talk the Argos would suspend him or release him if he didn't report on time, they chose neither measure, leaving him on the roster while giving him time to take care of family and personal business in Houston.

"It's not fair to put a deadline publicly," Argos' head coach Pinball Clemons said. "That's not something that either of us should do. We're going to give him a reasonable time because he has played a lot of football in a short period of time."

While the Rampage failed to make the playoffs, Bishop set several records for rushing and passing and is scheduled to be honoured leading up to the Arena Bowl championship game, June 12, in Las Vegas.

He has also been asked to participate in a skills competition leading up to the game.

That clashes with the Argos' first pre-season game on June 11.

But independent of that, his Arena League team likely doesn't want him coming back to play for the Argos. They wouldn't allow him to participate in Allen's recent quarterback challenge for charity because it happened the day before a scheduled game. They have offered him a four-year contract and Bishop probably doesn't want to jeopardize that playing for the Argos.

Regardless of the money, he is a starter in the Arena League and he is no more than a backup here, with no reasonable time frame when he will replace Allen.

The Argos organization has invested three years in Bishop. Last season, he showed flashes of ability in eight games as a starter while Allen recovered from a leg fracture, and maintained positive ball control in the Grey Cup for the brief period when Allen exited the game with leg cramps.

The Argos traded away Allen's heir apparent, Marcus Brady, last year after the pre-season to fill a need for an experienced offensive lineman -- and because they felt Bishop had a better upside. They had no reservations about allowing him to play in the Arena League in the off-season, thinking he would return in good faith. Now all that has changed.

The fact he has found success in the Arena League, while he has struggled with consistency in the CFL, is not surprising. The Arena League is played on a field half the size of a CFL gridiron and with only eight defenders -- some playing two ways -- compared to 12 in the CFL. The mental challenges clearly are not as great and he can flourish athletically.

Had the Argos simply rid themselves of Bishop in the off-season when he publicly stated he had concerns about returning as Allen's backup, they could have acquired a quarterback with some CFL experience.

They may yet end up doing that.

In the meantime, the ball is in Allen hands and two unproven backups.


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