Avery can get serious again

ROB LONGLEY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

Argos running back John Avery always has been a team-first guy, but fair to surmise if he never hears the name Ricky Williams again, he won't complain.

It was a year ago that Avery was the forgotten man and worse in a humiliating edition of the CFL team's training camp.

"I was told to undress basically the day of his arrival," Avery said of a 2006 season that went from indignity to injury when the suspended Miami Dolphins star was brought in.

"As long as I've been playing ball, I've never really been beaten out of my job. It either wasn't my time or it was for marketing purposes."

The latter is no longer a worry. Williams is gone, his much-hyped, one-year CFL experiment a failure by almost any football measure.

On an offence in which 'rush' was considered a four-letter word, there were not enough touches for Williams, let alone Williams and Avery.

"I wasn't involved," Avery said during a long chat after a recent Argos training camp session. "I would practise five or six minutes on the the scout team to help the defence get ready for a guy like (Winnipeg running back) Charles Roberts. That was my job. I did it because I was still part of this team."

He did it, but he didn't have to like it. Avery doesn't want to pretend he is Charles Roberts in practice. He wants to run like him in games, churning up yards by the hundreds.

"Even Ricky himself said 'Man, you're too good not to be out there,' " said Avery, who by all accounts handled the upheaval with class.

When Williams injured his hand and Avery's number came up, it went from bad to worse. In his first full practice, Avery pulled a hamstring and didn't return until Week 8.

"It's hard to stay healthy when you are under stress," Avery said. "When the mind stresses, the body suffers.

"It's hard to relax and do your job when you are constantly looking over your shoulder and worrying."

So if there is an extra bounce in Avery's 31-year-old legs this spring, well, there probably should be.

Avery is playing for a team with an offensive coordinator that would make any running back happy. Steve Buratto helped Mike Pringle along the path to CFL greatness and in 2006 ran an offence in which Calgary's Joffrey Reynolds topped 1,500 yards.

"(Avery) is physically and emotionally ready and now he is an offence that seems to focus around his strengths," Argos coach Mike (Pinball) Clemons said after yesterday's practice at the U of T's Erindale campus.

"It seems everything is in place where he can have a great deal of success."

How much success? Clemons said hitting the standard numerical goal for any back should be like running downhill for a man of Avery's talent.

"If he can stay healthy, the 1,000-yard mark isn't even a challenge for John," Clemons said.

That's foreign territory for the current generation of Argos -- Michael Jenkins was the most recent to top quadruple digits and that was a football eternity ago, in 2001.

So there were more than a few smiles on the Argos sideline Saturday when Avery broke through for a 25-yard run, then finished off the opening drive of the pre-season game against the Montreal Alouettes with a one-yard touchdown plunge.

In the final year of a four-year deal with the Argos, Avery is ready and willing to be a CFL star. We're about to find out, it would seem, if he's able.

"We know that when he consistently gets touches, he produces numbers," Clemons said. "He makes gigantic plays when he gets those types of opportunities."


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