Only the beginning

Argonauts wide receiver Arland Bruce gestures to photographers during practice yesterday. The Argos...

Argonauts wide receiver Arland Bruce gestures to photographers during practice yesterday. The Argos kick off the CFL season on Saturday against the B.C. Lions. (Toronto Sun/David Lucas)

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

Complacency is a word the Argos tossed around like a football during the off-season.

As in, there would be no complacency during the 2005 season after the excellent season in 2004, both in terms of winning the Grey Cup and re-building the team from the ownership collapse the previous year.

But there's an old axiom in sports that says it is harder for a championship team to stay on top than it is to get to the top. That will be the challenge this year for the Argos. They can refer to complacency as some kind of mantra if ever the football operation and/or the business operation start to feel a little too good about what happened last year.

FEW CHANGES

On the field, the team made few changes. The only notable ones are at right guard, where Mike Mihelic will start following the off-season trade of Sandy Annunziata to the Edmonton Eskimos, and right offensive tackle, where rookie Jerome Davis supplanted two-year starter John Feugill, who was released.

"You don't change for the sake of change," head coach Pinball Clemons said last week. "The reason we changed (last year) is because we felt like (the new players) could be productive. I think we have a couple of situations this year where we feel that there could be guys who come in and change the dynamic for us and make us a better football team."

The development of flashy rookie Hakim Hill provides insurance for running back John Avery, who showed well during training camp, only to miss both pre-season games with a groin injury. A perfect scenario would see both players on the field at the same time, similar to what the Argos did with running back Robert Drummond and Clemons, who was converted from a tailback to a slotback in 1996 and '97.

"Hakim, what can you say about him?" Clemons said in glowing terms after the second pre-season game. "He's just a dynamic player. We are very happy with what he can do and bring to the table. That now involves the way you structure your offence."

At quarterback, the Argos appear to be in good shape. Veteran Damon Allen finished off the pre-season solidly while backup Michael Bishop played well off limited time in training camp.

Whether quarterbacking becomes an issue at some point during the season, the continuity factor from the year before with Allen will help the offence initially to pick up and move forward. In the beginning last year, it took a while for new co-ordinator Kent Austin and the starting unit to come together.

Defensively, the Argos are expected to begin the season with the same unit that played so strongly last season.

And the special teams, featuring punter/place-kicker Noel Prefontaine, are the same.

Off the field, the Argos have tripled season-ticket sales since the takeover by owners Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon in 2004. Throughout this past off-season, in which the team ended plans to build a new stadium and decided to remain at the Rogers Centre, the business operation worked hard in the community to build up the Argos brand.

If the team does well, it complements the positive developments on the business side -- in theory. In winning back-to-back Grey Cups in 1996 and '97 --the first time a team did it since the Eskimos won their fourth and fifth consecutive titles in 1981 and '82 -- the Argos had a significant drop in attendance the second season. The 1997 Argos may have been one of greatest squads in CFL history, but that didn't translate to tickets as sales declined. Perhaps ownership became too complacent in marketing the team, thinking the product alone would spike sales.

The current ownership is putting all of its resources into further rebuilding the team. If the Argos don't successfully defend their Grey Cup championship this season, it won't be for a lack of trying.

Failure is not an option and neither is complacency.


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