Barker eyes Bowl players

STEVE GREEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:34 AM ET

As he watched the 48 university football players gathered for the East-West Bowl go through a practice Wednesday morning at TD Waterhouse Stadium, Toronto Argonauts head coach Jim Barker would occasionally make a notation in a small notebook.

Elsewhere in the stands and on the field, representatives from the other seven Canadian Football League teams were doing likewise. For many, this is their first really good look at players eligible for the 2011 draft.

"We're looking to eliminate people based on their athleticism, those who won't have a chance to play in our league," Barker said. "That way we know who to focus on in our scouting and recruiting for next year."

Barker said he'll combine his notes this week in a database that will later include game film. He added coaches put a heavy em phasis on testing Tuesday that started the week-long camp leading to Saturday's 1 p.m. game.

"A guy can be eliminated if he tests poorly, but they also have a chance between now and the evaluation camp (in March) to change things. As an example, there were two offensive linemen here last year. One benched (225 pounds) nine times here and came to the e-camp and did 12. Obviously that showed that not a lot of work went in between camps. The other did 12 reps here and 22 at the e-camp. That means you've got a kid who really cares about the game and is willing to work."

It's not all about bench presses and 40-yard times, though.

"Football instinct is important as well," Barker said. "A lot of things in practice can tell you if someone has a poor football instinct or if they have a good one. You watch how they move, how (defenders) react to crossers, how offensive linemen pick up how other guys change direction.

"I just wish they'd do more skill moves here, because what's most important for us are the drills, how they compete one on one."

Barker is back in Toronto for his second stint as the Argos head coach and he inherits a team that went 7-29 over the last two seasons, nowhere near the playoffs.

He spent six successful years in Calgary, starting as the head coach in 2003, returning in 2005 for three seasons as general manager, then spending the last two as senior vice-president of football operations and director of player personnel.

So why rejoin the Argonauts?

"This is a great challenge for me and a great time to come to Toronto," he said. "We have a decent core of players and a new owner (David Braley) who really understands the CFL and you can't ask for anything more than that as a coach. I see this as a fantastic opportunity.

"The goal for us is that we're on a competitive, level field with everyone else. If we aren't, then that's on me. I've been given everything I need to be successful, so it's on me to put the pieces in order."

That started with some free-agent moves and offseason deals, including a trade for Calgary receiving star Jermaine Copeland in February and signing NFL journeyman quarterback Cleo Lemon, who played in 15 NFL games over three seasons, as a free agent in March. Then came Saturday's CFL draft.

Barker admits he missed the hands-on role of coach and said things have changed drastically from his last stint in Toronto.

"In 1999 they were looking to sell the team and there were a lot of issues. Now it's a new slate, a new way of doing things and new expectations. Plus I'm only 53 - I'm not ready for that retirement job just yet. And I'm going to be a much better coach because of the time I spent in the front office."

And he knows the Argonaut faithful are starving for a winner.

"We've got a core of fans that's extremely strong and they've been through a lot."


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