As they try to make a leap in the standings after two bad seasons, the most difficult hurdle for the Argonauts players might be accepting that it can’t be done overnight.
The majority of Canadian Football League observers figure the Argos will miss the playoffs for a third consecutive year.
That’s not a knock on the abilities of head coach Jim Barker, nor on quarterback Cleo Lemon, who seems to have the talent to develop into a solid starter as long as he gets time to do so.
Barker got rid of some veterans in the off-season, though he often credits general manager Adam Rita for keeping a core of integral players in Double Blue.
Still, those who remain in vital positions have new faces to work with, which means that becoming a cohesive unit on both sides of the ball will have to be done with patience.
Of the starters in the first regular season game, three on defence — Byron Parker, Michael Grant and Alex Buzbee — were not with the Argos at the end of 2009. The offence featured eight new starters, including Lemon, slotbacks Jeremaine Copeland and Brandon Rideau, running back Cory Boyd and receiver Jeffrey Webb.
Already, though, even after an opening-night loss to the Calgary Stampeders, the Argos players sense a change.
“We were in that game right to the end,” running back Jeff Johnson said. “I thought we were going to win the whole time. We shot ourselves in the foot a little bit but we bounced back after.
“That is the difference from the past. We would shoot ourselves in the foot and we would do it again and never really bounce back.
“(On Thursday night), we kept pushing, guys making plays. We had a (good) return late, guys continued to do things that inspired the rest of the team. We saw we get it done and that is the difference.”
The Argos in 2009 rarely demonstrated an ability, or even a willingness, to fight back if they were down. And holding on to a lead became a chore.
The Argos lost by 14 points to the Stampeders, but had Lemon not been tackled hard by Wes Lysack in the final minute and fumbled, Calgary probably would not have added another touchdown.
Though the Stampeders controlled the football for the majority of the game, the Argos felt afterward that they had left something on the field.
“We’re a work in progress,” Barker said.
“I’m as proud as I can be to be the head coach of the men in that room. We have the right mix of players. Every game we play is going to be building on what we have here.”
The Argos had Saturday and Sunday off, but will return to practice on Monday in preparation for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who surprisingly ran roughshod over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday night.
In five days, the Argos will meet the Bombers in Winnipeg for their second road game in a row before playing their home opener on July 14 against the Stampeders.
Another loss would be unacceptable, especially for the Argos vets who were in Double Blue a year ago.
The Argos have not won since beating Hamilton in overtime last Sept. 11 — a streak of nine consecutive losses.
“I believe it can change quickly,” Johnson said. “The errors we made (against Calgary) were mental. We will be better next time.”