Working out the kinks

ROB LONGLEY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:09 AM ET

The regular season may begin for the Argonauts on Thursday night, but in the fierce fight for key jobs, the contest could be an unofficial continuation of the pre-season.

It doesn't help that the defending champion B.C. Lions are the guests at the Rogers Centre to kick off a season the Argos hope will end up in the same stadium on Grey Cup day.

With a new offensive co-ordinator, possible temporary status at starting quarterback and a partial makeover to deal with the league salary cap, this is very much a work in progress.

"We're not necessarily going to be good right away," Argos president and general manager Adam Rita said recently.

"New people, new coaches. It's going to take some time."

The beauty of the CFL in general and its Eastern Division specifically, is that there is no rush to be a force right out of the gate.

With 18 regular-season games and the need to beat only one team to make the playoffs, the sense of urgency is not as acute as in other pro leagues.

And as the Argos look around, none of Montreal, Hamilton or Winnipeg are overly daunting divisional threats.

"We've got a solid foundation and we're ready to compete the first week of the year," Argos coach Mike (Pinball) Clemons said.

"Having said that, I think there are still some questions.

"We are starting with a very tough game and that will give us a gauge.

"Win or lose that game, it is the first few weeks that will let us know where we are."

Most critically, on offence, where new co-ordinator Steve Buratto can't be expected to work miracles overnight but brings ingenuity and optimism to a unit crying out for both.

One of the more creative offensive minds in the league, it will take some time for the players to adapt to Buratto's system, not to mention a rebuilt offensive line and some flux at the key skill positions.

Questions begin at quarterback where Clemons acknowledged the guy who gets the ball on Thursday may not hold the position in Week 2, 5, or 15.

Buratto has opted for the safe approach, tentatively naming Allen starter, albeit one with a short leash.

First up in the 'pen will be Michael Bishop with Mike McMahon in third for now.

Argos fans frustrated at Allen's mediocre finish to the 2006 season won't be pleased, though the promise shown by the other two is encouraging.

Why wait to start the quarterback controversy, it's already in full boil.

There also is a changing of the guard brewing at running back, with a big training camp from Jamel White giving him the nod over John Avery.

If that move sticks, it will be the second consecutive year that Avery is bumped by an NFL veteran, albeit with a lot less fanfare than Ricky Williams a year ago.

White, a former Cleveland Brown, fits the prototype of Buratto, a between the tackles runner unafraid to pound out hard yards down the middle.

Unlike Avery, he's also a superb blocker, a key fit to Buratto's schemes.

On the offensive line, the Argos aren't expected to have recent signee Steve Morley ready for the opener, but when he gets in, the Argos will have the luxury of four Canadian big men, led by off-season acquisition Taylor Robertson.

Rita topped the recruiting of Buratto after he was let go by the Stampeders following the 2006 season.

Old friends from earlier in their careers, Rita loves what Buratto brings to an offence that struggled under Kent Austin, who was fired mid-way through last season.

"You will see multiple formations, sometimes you will see some old-fashioned football and sometimes you will see something completely new," Rita said.

"It is the way Steve teaches that is probably the most relevant. He will make the offence better."

It needs to. A unit that languished toward the bottom of the league in most offensive categories in 2006 must complement the defence rather than conspire against it.

Rich Stubler's big-time defence looks as stout as ever, despite the challenge of replacing stalwarts Eric England, Antonious Bonner and Clifford Ivory.

Additions include big Adriano Belli at nose tackle, while Riall Johnson is moving into a more permanent starter's role at defensive end.

Few doubt the defence will continue to keep the Argos in games.

How long they have to wait for the offence to complete the package is the big issue that awaits.

"We have the benefit of an 18-game schedule (to sort things out), but we also have the challenge of just two pre-season games," Clemons said.

"One affords you the chance to adapt over the course of the season, the other makes it difficult to be ready for game number one."

ARGOS SCHEDULE

HOME

Thursday: B.C., 6:30 p.m. (TSN)

July 12: Calgary, 7 pm (TSN)

July 26:. Montreal, 7 p.m. (TSN)

Aug. 10: Saskatchewan, 7:30 p.m. (TSN)

Sept. 8: Hamilton, 3 p.m. (CBC)

Sept. 23: Winnipeg, 4 p.m. (TSN)

Oct. 6:. Edmonton, 3 p.m. (TSN)

Oct. 12: Montreal, 7:30 p.m. (TSN)

Oct. 27: Winnipeg, 3 p.m. (CBC)

AWAY

July 7: Hamilton, 7 p.m. (CBC)

July 21: Calgary, 7 p.m. (CBC)

Aug. 2: Montreal, 7:30 p.m. (TSN)

Aug. 24: Winnipeg, 8 p.m. (TSN)

Sept. 3: Hamilton, 1 p.m. (CBC)

Sept. 15:. B.C., 10 p.m. (CBC)

Sept. 28: Edmonton, 9 p.m. (TSN)

Oct. 20: Montreal, 3 p.m. (CBC)

Nov. 3: Saskatchewan, 3 p.m. (CBC)


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