Argos happy campers

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

The Argonauts somehow have managed to turn the drudgery of training camp into a festival of sorts.

Every morning this week, 500 to 600 school kids from across Metro are bused to the University of Toronto Erindale Campus, ringing the practice field while the Argos and the Argo-wannabes go through their paces.

When the morning workout is over, it's a jail-break as the kids sprint to the middle of the field, surrounding the athletes for a half-hour of cheer-learning and autographs.

The mood is light, the excitement of the children refreshing and the players don't seem to mind at all. Quite a few seem to be having about as much fun as the kids.

The point of the whole exercise is to build their fan base, one breathless youngster at a time. Each child gets a voucher he or she can exchange for a ticket to any game, hopefully in the company of their parents.

Football camp normally is grim business, all about winning jobs or retaining them. With these Argos, though, it's hard to make a case for a lot of competition. Coming off their Grey Cup win, the Toronto front office did whatever it took to get most of the veteran regulars back under contract.

PICKINGS SLIM

There are a few positions available but the pickings are slim. In the absence of quarterback Michael Bishop, who spent the winter becoming a star in the Arena Football League and now is weighing a four-year, $500,000 offer to stay in Grand Rapids full time, there is one very important job up for grabs.

That would be the spot directly beneath Damon Allen's name on the depth chart. Allen, at 42, has come to camp in shape and in charge. There is absolutely no doubt who the No. 1 man is there. Scott Covington, who spent five years on the fringes of the NFL and Charlie Peterson, an Arena league refugee, are getting the bulk of the reps in the early going to see who might emerge as Allen's understudy.

HANG ON

Covington, 29, played for Cincinnati, the Rams and Kansas City in the NFL after being drafted out of Miami in 1999 but has only played a few downs that mattered in that period.

"The older you get in the NFL," Covington said, "you're either a premier player or you're trying to hang on. As a quarterback there aren't many ways to get on the field. The starter pretty much takes it start to finish.

"The only way you can perfect your craft is to get on the field. I see this as a great opportunity to try to get some playing time and kick-start my career again."

Peterson, a 2001 BYU grad, has kicked around the AFL the past few years.

"What I'm seeing right now is that Damon is awfully sharp," head coach Michael Clemons said.

"As far as the other two guys go, Scott seems to be very efficient. Already you can see that he's disciplined in taking what the defence gives him.

"Charlie seems to have that X-factor. He seems to be a guy that's a gamer, the kind of quarterback who does some different things to surprise you.

"We're very happy and that's why we haven't looked to bring anybody else in."

Clemons is reserving any further judgment until he sees his players under game conditions. For the Argos, that will be in Halifax against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on June 11.

"Nobody stays the same when the lights come on," Clemons said. "You either get better or you get worse."

There is speculation that Bishop may be back in Toronto any day now, even though the Argos have not renegotiated his contract, which is for considerably less money than he is being offered in the AFL.

"We're just going to proceed right now," Clemons said. "As the year goes on, there are certain things that will happen that will make us a better ball club. Michael might be one of those things."

Or so might Covington or Peterson. At this point in the Argonaut pre-season festival anything still is possible.


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