Argos defence enjoy hitting

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:18 AM ET

With a few exceptions, most Argonauts practices start the same way.

We know what you're thinking: A three-mile run, followed by windsprints and then 20 minutes of up-downs? Maybe throw in a tackling dummy or two?

And the answer is, not really.

It starts with a duffle bag. Inside the duffle bag are a baseball bat, a volleyball, a helmet and some flat pilons for bases.

Toss in 20 or so burly football players, hooting and laughing and ragging on each other like 10 year-old kids and you've got an old-fashioned game of stickball. Instant fun.

It's become a tradition for the Argos defence. They're always finished their meetings first so, while they wait for the offensive geniuses to get their heads out of their books and on to the field, they play their own version of slow-pitch.

"We've been doing it, I think, since 2004," defensive captain Mike O'Shea said. "I think we started playing dodgeball, then we went to kickball and then to stickball. It's our little 15-20 minute recess while we're waiting for the offence.

"We have a helmet that says 'On Your Way To Single A,' so if you strike out or make a bad play in the field you might end up wearing the helmet the next day."

In that regard, an observer yesterday might have thought they could have found homes for a lot more than just one helmet. Whiffing on a slow-pitched volleyball with a baseball bat? But who said you have to have talent to have fun.

"And they do have fun," head coach Michael Clemons said. "The dictator is defensive coach (Rich) Stuebler. He is the be-all and end-all. He legislates games called because of weather, called because of darkness, called because of time. He legislates who is out and who is not.

"In case of disputes, there's an appeals process. It goes from Rich to Stuebler and if there's any discussion after that it goes to coach -- Stuebler."

For whatever reason, football defensive units are usually close-knit outfits. It's them against the world. In the Argos' case, a lot of it has to do with the continuity that has been fostered during the Clemons era. Every year there are changes, of course, but not many and in that way, the newcomers always come under the influence of some dependable veteran leaders.

"Anytime you don't win and sometimes when you do, there are changes. It's just the nature of the beast," O'Shea said.

"One of the things this defence does, through coach Stuebler and through attention to detail, we take great pride in being able to evolve and not stay static. Having people who can adapt to that change as a season goes along is important in an eight-team league, because you're facing some opponents three times and maybe again in the playoffs.

"To be able to change things up is important."

Jermaine Mays has taken over one corner spot this year, replacing and Argos legend in 12-year veteran Adrion Smith. Because of injuries to the linebacking corps, Jeff Sanchez and Jeff Kelly are in for Chuck Winters and Michael Fletcher. Former Winnipeg Blue Bomber Marc Pilon has moved in at defensive tackle.

Against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in their season-opener, the Argos defence allowed only one offensive touchdown. Tomorrow night against Winnipeg, they don't expect a lot of surprises.

"Charles Roberts and Milt Stegall," O'Shea said of Winnipeg's two top offensive threats. "It has been that combination, and a damn fine one, for a long time in Winnipeg. Both those guys are well-respected and they'll be a handful."

On offence, with Damon Allen on the mend for the next six weeks after surgery on the middle finger of his throwing hand, Spergon Wynn goes in against his old team as the Argos' No. 1 quarterback. He professes no ill-will against the Bombers.

"I don't really live like that," said Wynn. "If you build that kind of stuff up, it never comes back in a positive way.

"I feel like I'm in a better place for me now. I have no ill will. I just want to go out there, have fun and play a good game."

Eric Crouch will be Wynn's backup and, gulp, kicker Noel Prefontaine is No. 3 on the depth chart.

"Prefontaine used to play quarterback, I think, in 1902," general manger Adam Rita said. "He will be our disaster plan. We don't want to go there."


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