Belli won't kiss off opener

TERRY KOSHAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:48 PM ET

Accustomed to playing football with the intensity of a caged lion, Adriano Belli has not had an easy time watching the Argonauts' first training camp under head coach Bart Andrus unfold.

Belli, nursing the ongoing effects of a pelvic injury that dates to last season, finally has joined his teammates during workouts without pads. About the only unfortunate aspect of Belli's return is that he can resume planting kisses on those who come within an arm's reach of the burly Toronto native.

"It has been a frustrating, long off-season, and right now I don't want to push it too hard and end up screwing it up," Belli, heading into his third year as a defensive tackle for the Double Blue, said.

"I'm not ready to start hitting people out there yet. It's just nice to be out with the guys. I would rather strain myself in a game than in practice."

While the 6-foot-5, 289-pound Belli can move around the field only gingerly -- for him, anyway -- it's more than what some of his teammates on whom Andrus was counting on can do.

Two that come to mind are defensive end Jonathan Brown, who has been kept out of drills because of a disc problem in his back, and receiver/kick returner Jerome Mathis. The former NFL standout has a hamstring injury and as a result, the kick returner position is wide open.

Andrus could audition as many as 10 players in that role in the Argos' two pre-season games, from veteran Arland Bruce to converted receiver Reggie McNeal to newcomer Kenny O'Neal. Andrus might be teaching basic football concepts but his terminology completely is different, and the longer hurt players stay on the sideline, the greater the danger they fall behind.

Mathis, whose NFL career was shortened by injuries, is not yet at a point where he can run, let alone return a punt or kick.

GO-TO KICK RETURNER

Andrus made it clear he wants one go-to guy as his returner, as Dominique Dorsey was last year. Dorsey took his 2,892 all-purpose yards and CFL most outstanding special teams player award and signed with the Washington Redskins, where he's a long shot to earn a roster spot.

It's possible the CFL has not seen the last of Dorsey, but the Argos couldn't wait on him.

"The main thing is (Mathis) needs to be back on the field," Andrus said. "I think you need a returner in this league who does something else for you. They need to be productive somewhere else. Everyone is even right now. It's going to be an interesting competition."

One thing is clear -- the brash and outspoken Belli, who would not go so far to guarantee he will play in the Argos' regular-season opener on July 1, has not been stripped of his sense of humour. When asked whether he was concerned that his injury lingered from last season, the 31-year-old said: "The only thing that lingers around here is the offensive line in the locker room and how much they stink. Stinky, fat bastards."

TERRY.KOSHAN@SUNMEDIA.CA


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