Jim Barker claims to be unsure who his starting quarterback will be on July 1.
But the Argonauts head coach knows it will be Cleo Lemon or Dalton Bell.
Lemon will start on Saturday afternoon at the renovated Molson Stadium in Montreal against the Alouettes in the Argos’ final pre-season game, and it’s expected he will take snaps into the third quarter. At some point, Bell will take over.
And then, probably on Sunday, Barker will make his ultimate decision. Nothing Barker determines in the next 24 hours regarding his roster will have the kind of impact that will come in naming his No. 1 quarterback.
“It’s open, it’s between Dalton and Cleo, and one of those two will be our starter against Calgary (on Canada Day),” Barker said after the team completed its walk-through at Erindale on Friday morning.
“Ken (Dorsey) will continue to progress, but we had to make a decision and felt like those two were ahead. They understand the quarterback has to make plays. It’s about running the offence and being efficient, but it is also about making plays.”
Lemon and Bell will go after the Als’ defence with differing mindsets. Lemon’s knowledge of the Alouettes comes only from watching film, and he has “heard” that the atmosphere at Montreal home games can be electric.
Bell knows more about the Alouettes than he would care to remember. Bell was on the sideline in Calgary last November, wearing the jersey of the Saskatchewan Roughriders as the third-string quarterback, when Als kicker Damon Duval got a second chance to win the Grey Cup after the Riders were penalized for too many men on the field. Duval made the easy field goal, ripping out the Roughriders’ hearts with one kick.
“I don’t think about it at all,” Bell said. “But having that 13th guy on the field was a heart-breaker. We rushed the field and thought we had won the game. Then we saw all those orange flags on the field and they drained it. I know for a lot of the guys, it will be hard for them to get over.”
All that concerned Bell on Friday afternoon as the Argos made their way to Montreal by train was getting a handle on the Als’ defence, which allowed a league-low 324 points in 2009. Montreal lost integral performers such as lineman Keron Williams and cornerback Davis Sanchez in the off-season, but the group remains formidable.
“I guess you get a little bit nervous before you go in, but it’s more of anxious feeling for me,” Bell said. “I like where I am right now. I had a good week of practice.”
A strong performance on Saturday would be the proper culmination of two weeks of camp for Lemon. He might not have been in Toronto had he not been waived last August by the Baltimore Ravens.
Lemon wanted to head back home to Greenwood, Miss., to help his mother, who had suffered several aneuryms and a stroke, health issues that resulted in brain surgery.
Aiding his mom with rehab in the past year was more important to Lemon than playing football. But as his mother recovered, Lemon was able to re-focus on his craft.
“We all want to play football for a long time, but there are other things going on in the world that really are more important, like family,” Lemon said. “She knows what is going on. She is excited. I try to talk to her as much as I can.”
As for wading into Molson Stadium on Saturday afternoon, Lemon wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“It’s that time of year when decisions are being made,” Lemon said. “I know those guys are going to be fired up. I just don’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I want to stay as loose as possible.”