It has been six seasons and a dozen running backs since the Toronto Argonauts had a ground game that didn't look like it was designed for a crash-test dummy.
Bart Andrus said he'd change that when he was introduced as the new head coach. So far, he has had a curious way of showing it: He never even counts how many times his team runs the ball in a game.
"It allows me not to get caught up in numbers," Andrus said. "All I care about is moving the chains. I'm not going to line up and pound it when they've got more people between the tackles than we can block."
So, there are going to be times like that first pre-season game when Toronto went 42 minutes and handed the ball off once. Enough to make a running back weep, right?
Not so, says Jamal Robertson, designated midway through training camp as the team's No. 1 running back. "I'm a chameleon. If I'm not running it, I'll catch it," he said yesterday. Robertson, who arrived from Saskatchewan last June is, like his coach, an anomoly. He says he's "a workhorse" but whether he gets two, or 20 hand-offs, it's all the same to him.
Welcome to the mixed up world of the Argonauts. Except, this time there is method to the madness as the Boatmen practised in the rain in preparation for Wednesday's season- opener in Hamilton. Andrus has introduced a "read offence", an option style in which the play is dictated by how the defence lines up. "Sometimes that means pass; sometimes it means run. I don't care ... as long as we score," Andrus said.
Mostly, in preseason, this has translated into a pass game but the Argos spend about 50% of practice rebuilding their non-existant ground attack.
"I think you need to be able to run," Andrus said. "In our second pre-season game we wanted to run to take time off the clock ... to get a couple first downs. That's what I wanted to find out about us. My definition of a tough football team is one that can run the football when everybody in the stadium knows you're going to run."
Not exactly an Argonaut forte. Since the wheels came off Michael Jenkins in 2003, the Argonauts have gone through running backs like Paris Hilton goes through one-night stands. In the five-plus seasons since, 14 different Argos have started at running back. Remember Jamel White and Skip Hicks? Don't worry. Hardly anybody else does either.
There was Ricky Williams, John Williams, a guy named Humphries and Tyler Ebell turned out to be a legend only in Rich Stubler's playbook. "I don't look those things up. Right now (Robertson) is my first running back," Andrus said of the body count.
Robertson first impressed him when the two hooked up against each other in the NFL Europe. "He looked good in games (with Toronto) last year, some of the stuff he did in training camp, the understanding he has of the game, what I saw of him in Europe. I'm excited about him."
Last year Robertson's seven touchdowns were the most by a Toronto running back since Jenkins in 2001. Against Saskatchewan in Week 18 he ran for 97 yards. But, can he be the reasonable facsimile of Jenkins? "I spent six seasons in the NFL," he says.
Nice. But then you remember that playing on the fringe of several NFL rosters is no harbinger of stardom in Canada, or Vince Ferragamo would be a hall of famer and Ricky Williams more than a token CFLer.
"I believe in the system. We will get the running game working. It's patience," Robertson said. "You can't get frustrated if it doesn't (work) right away."
Perhaps. But Andrus knows Father Time is never playing on your sideline. In pro sports, either you fix the problem or, like his predecessors Stubler and Don Matthews, you become the problem.
"I know there were problems last year or I wouldn't be here. Also," he said, "I'm the 40th coach (in 102 years). I can do the math ... I know I need to get it done fast."