Austin playing coy?

ROB LONGLEY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

Saskatchewan Roughriders coach Kent Austin said all the right things yesterday ... and did so with a smile.

He talked about tonight's game at the Rogers Centre being the most important of the season, but only because it is the next one on the schedule.

He talked about the Argos organization, the team which fired him a year ago as offensive coordinator, in only glowing terms.

Any which way the line was cast, Austin refused to take the bait on the eve of his 4-2 Green Riders facing the 2-4 Argos.

"They are the next team that we are trying to beat," Austin said. "That's it. That's what they are."

A man who knows Austin well, knows better, however.

"We all say that," said injured Argos quarterback Damon Allen, who won a Grey Cup (2004) and a league MVP award ('05) during Austin's two full seasons with the Argos. "I'm pretty sure that when the schedule came out, this was a game that he looked forward to. This will be special for him."

Forgetting the possible revenge angle, the Roughriders will be a tough test tonight.

Under the joint braintrust of Austin and first-year general manager Eric Tillman, Saskatchewan has the second-best record in the CFL. Helped by the league's top defence, their 21-9 win over the Grey Cup-champion B.C. Lions last week showed that there is some substance to back it up.

They are getting respect as well, installed as 31/2-point road favourites, largely because they are facing an Argos offence that is banged up at all the key skill positions.

"We're excited about what the future holds," Argos coach Mike (Pinball) Clemons said yesterday. "We're a little bit more concerned about today."

That concern starts at quarterback where Rocky Butler, an off-season castoff by the Roughies, becomes the fourth Argos starting QB of the season.

It continues to running back, where John Avery is out with an ankle injury and Jamel White has injured ribs and is on the suspended list.

That leaves the promising but unheralded tandem of Dominique Dorsey and Andre Durie to try to move the ball on the ground.

There was more bad news yesterday when big play receiver Tony Miles also was ruled out for tonight's game as his injured hamstring continues to nag.

"There is a sense of urgency around here," Argos defensive back Khalil Carter said.

For good reason. The injury-ravaged Argos are in danger of dropping their fourth in a row and falling to 2-5, the same low-water mark that caused Austin to be run out of town.

His firing was blamed on everything from a rift with management to his inability to properly utilize CFL bust Ricky Williams at running back.

"That's an easy path to go down with explanations," Austin said of Williams. "I think there was a lot more to it than that."

And because of it, a lot more on the line tonight.


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