Troubling debut all too familiar

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

New season, new faces, new game plan ... same old Argos.

Toronto's professional football team opened its season last night and it looked a lot like a rerun of last year's scary show.

Namely: An offence that went mostly AWOL, good defence, too many mistakes interspersed with some flashy special teams work. Going to an Argos game is getting to be a lot like going to the Chinese restaurant: You almost always end up feeling that you want more at the end of the night.

The last time Michael Clemons had a offence that worked consistently, he was in it.

Last night's loss to the B.C. Lions left more questions than it answered. Damon Allen was underwhelming -- 70 net yards in the first half. By the time he departed for Michael Bishop in the fourth quarter he had 130 yards passing. Not horrid. Hardly job security. When Bishop came in he hit former Kansas State teammate Frank Murphy, then old reliable Arland Bruce with passes, danced around the backfield, hitting Michael Palmer with an eight-yard TD strike.

He could have had the go-ahead touchdown, too, if not for a holding call to Jamel White that brought back a TD. It was just one of too many mistakes. "It's Game 1. That's always the ugly game," linebacker Michael Fletcher said.

The Argos, with a supposedly vastly improved offensive line, gave up four sacks, Allen fumbled the ball, they had three penalties and a blocked punt that went for a B.C. touchdown and left Noel Prefontaine limping off the field. And, that was just the first quarter. The Argos' defence had limited the Lions to seven total yards but Toronto trailed 7-0.

The quarter ended with Allen on his butt, sacked by B.C.'s Derek Wake, who spent much of the first half playing in the Argos' backfield.

"Early in the season the defence is always a little ahead of the offence. At some point the offence catches up," Clemons said. "We're not as shocked (by the ragged play) now than if it happened in the middle of the season."

Still it was a troubling debut. The last time this happened the offence never did catch up. And, all Allen's performance did was fuel the controversy over who should be the club's No. 1 quarterback.

Toronto has 16 new players, but Allen wasn't using the fact he was working with a new running back in White or new receivers and linemen as an excuse for failing to get the offence up field. "It's disappointing and I'm not happy about tonight," he said, "but they've got a pretty good defence, too."

He declined to say if he thought he did enough to keep the No. 1 job. But lack of offence and mistakes are becoming too much of a trademark for Clemons and Allen's teams. While it would have been heresy to suggest in Game 1 of the season that Clemons should not be long for the job as head coach, last night's start leaves room for people to wonder. Never a good thing. Just like it left room to wonder how long Allen can be considered the No. 1 quarterback.

Last year, this team scored only 359 points -- almost half of the team record of 689 scored in the 1990 season. They had just 5,129 yards in net offence, almost 2,000 less than the 7,665 that Doug Flutie put up in the team's best year, 1996.

Mistakes? Let's review. The offensive line looked like it had a few bricks in the wall missing. Some day it may be as good as Clemons envisions it but last night they surrendered six sacks. Last year the team had its fourth-highest total in history with 192 penalties. Last night they had 14, including the last six when Bishop was trying to reprise a miracle finish like, you know, last year.

"At this time of year the most disciplined team usually wins," Clemons said.

That team was not wearing blue and it seldom has the past few seasons. Even the fans were in on the act. Just like last year, most of them didn't show up. Attendance failed to crack 30,000. Maybe the folks at home knew something.


Photos