Is this Payton's place?

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:16 AM ET

With one surprise signing yesterday, the Argonauts picked up the son of a football legend, a strong dressing room personality and a valuable addition to their weak running game.

Jarrett Payton, son of Walter Payton, was in uniform in time for the club's first on-field workouts in Mississauga.

It would be easy to list Payton as another member of new head coach Bart Andrus' Amsterdam mafia, where the two combined for an NFL Europe title in 2005. Payton was the league's top rusher that year. But Payton also was big in the CFL as Montreal's top rusher in 2007.

When the Argos' deal with Payton was being finalized, an Alouettes public relations official phoned Toronto to extol Payton's virtues.

Slowed by an ankle injury last season and then released in July when Avon Cobourne became the Alouettes' new favourite, Payton stewed at home for a bit, then went into his gymnasium to show he still could be a force at age 28.

When the Argos held a free-agent camp in Orlando, Fla., in April, Payton quietly arranged to attend and impressed the staff.

"I didn't want anything handed to me. I didn't want any media. I just wanted the opportunity," Payton said. "When you have no job and you're at home, beggars can't be choosers. I cut my weight and was eager to prove to (Andrus) that I was ready."

The Payton name is still magic in the NFL, but Jarrett insists this camp isn't a ploy to get another look south of the border after a brief fling with Tennessee a few years ago.

"This is the best football in the world, even if I had an opportunity to go back to the NFL," Payton proclaimed. "People in the States say: 'If you play well in the CFL, maybe you can come back.' But no money would bring me back. I enjoy this game too much.

"You have to be well-rounded here. You can't just be a running back. You have to pass-block, catch balls, do everything. And that's what my dad taught me. As I watched him, he wasn't the best runner, he was the best all-around player.

"This would be my dad's league. If he didn't play in the NFL he'd be a stud up here. He could've played quarterback."

Andrus and the Argos obviously are concerned about the running game with a team that ranked seventh in the league in that department last season. Payton quickly intensifies the competition where Jamal Robertson and Tyler Ebell were set to battle Jay Lucas and Da'shawn Thomas.

STORY OF HIS OWN

Ebell has his own comeback story. Last Wednesday marked a full year since the 5-foot-8 Californian tore an Achilles tendon on his 25th birthday. Like Payton, he had a good CFL year in 2007, playing for Edmonton.

"It took eight months until I felt 100% ... That's a lot of steps," Ebell said. "But I was blessed to have a great medical staff. I just kept the mindset that I'd be out here on Day 1 of this camp, coming out blazing. You have to work hard and get your spot back.

"Always in camp they bring in somebody (else) with a resume who is good. But I rise to the challenge. I'm here to learn the playbook and let my play speak for itself."

Andrus was pleased with all his backs yesterday.

"I was very optimistic (about Ebell), based on his movement today, and I think he's right on track. Right now, Jamal is the guy we have at that position who has to get knocked off. We're playing with the depth chart right now, but until you're shooting live bullets (starting with a pre-season game June 17 against Montreal), you can't make a final analysis."


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