TORONTO - Since the curtain fell last Nov. 7 on the final game of the worst regular season in years for the Argonauts, this is the moment the returning players have been waiting for.
When the football is kicked off against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in a pre-season game at the Rogers Centre on Sunday afternoon, the memories of 2009 can remain in the past.
“Everybody is pretty pumped up,” linebacker Jason Pottinger said. “I can feel the vibe. It will be nice to let the anger out full-bore as opposed to hitting somebody in practice and looking at them and saying, ‘We’re on the same team.’ It will be nice to hit with a little more hatred.”
Though head coach Jim Barker reiterated on Saturday that “there is a wide-open battle everywhere” for jobs and that he is not prepared to say who will be in the opening lineup at any position, he jettisoned the veterans in the off-season that he did not think could play on his team.
Because of that, and a few other factors, there likely will not be many returning vets among the final cuts after the pre-season finale in Montreal next weekend.
“The biggest surprise for me has been not only the quality of the ability of the returning players, but the quality of their character and how they have bought in,” Barker said.
“I sense in them that they are excited to start a new chapter. You can look in their eyes and see that they are sincere and that they care. That’s all you can ask for.”
That refreshed attitude will translate on to the field during games, or at least that is Barker’s hope.
“Whether we win or lose, none of that matters (in the pre-season),” Barker said.
“What matters is how they go out and play. I told them this morning, it’s as important to me that we put a team on the field that people in Toronto are proud of.”
Barker inherited a team from former head coach Bart Andrus that was undisciplined and badly disorganized. During camp in the past week, Barker routinely halted practice for dressing-downs if a player went offside or was sluggish.
Barker will begin to find out on Sunday if the players really did buy in.
“I want them to be conscious of the things we have talked about from the beginning in terms of taking penalties, of holding on to the football, of creating turnovers,” Barker said. “Those are the things that win football games. We are trying to find not necessarily the best 46 players, but the best 46 in a group. That’s what I am looking for, is to find guys who fit into what we want.
“As of (Sunday) afternoon, these players don’t have to be the Argos who have won seven games in two years anymore. They’re in a brand new deal.”