Barker sweet on Lemon

JIM BENDER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:28 PM ET

He passed on Buck to go with a Lemon.

Jim Barker, Toronto’s new head coach, did not want to risk signing quarterback Buck Pierce because of his medical history and is now taking a flyer on ex-NFLer Cleo Lemon, who has no CFL experience.

“We just made the decision, based on (Pierce’s) history, that that wasn’t the direction our organization was going to go,” Barker said Thursday.

Pierce has suffered a number of concussions but has already survived several ferocious hits as a Winnipeg Blue Bomber.

“Buck is a great player,” Barker said. “I hope he can play for years to come because he’s good for our league.”

If Pierce was insulted by being passed over, he wasn’t saying.

“Would I have entertained some offers? Of course, I was looking for a job,” he said. “Would it have been the right fit? You never know. My fit right now is with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and I love it. I couldn’t be happier where I am right now. It really doesn’t matter who I’m going to face (Friday), I’m excited about the opportunity to get a win here in Winnipeg.”

Barker, meanwhile, got his dander up when questioned about Lemon.

“Anything you do, there’s a risk,” he snapped. “But, you can either do what you feel in your gut is the right thing to do for your organization, or you can yield to what all you media types and people believe should happen. I took all the experiences that I have, and if this doesn’t work, it’s on Jim Barker, and I’m fully ready to accept that. I haven’t made one decision without the Argonauts’ best interest at heart.

“Cleo won the job, but when we chose to go with a quarterback that was inexperienced in this league, it wasn’t like we had a ton of options. You could talk about (ex-Bomber QB) Michael Bishop, but those kind of options are not great options … There were no Henry Burrises available. It’s not like I chose to do this. These are the cards you’re dealt. You can either play them or you can cry about it. There are no excuses. He will develop into a quarterback.”

Lemon, 30, knows he is a work in progress.

“I’m trying to learn my way through it, but getting a chance to do it on the job, that’s definitely helping me,” said the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Arkansas State product. “When you get out here and you move around and you see you can make the plays, it builds confidence.”

SPOTTY RETURNS: Winnipeg’s Jovon Johnson returned eight punts for 68 yards last week, rather pedestrian numbers for the team’s most outstanding special teams player last season. But then, he did not return a lot of kicks during training camp.

“It wasn’t so much about the timing, it was just getting used to new guys that will be blocking for me and those type of things,” he said. “But the kicks were all over the place and it was the first game so, I really didn’t get the opportunity to be the guy that I know I can be.”

ROOKIE DANCE: After Thursday’s walk-through, a number of rookies performed short dances as their teammates huddled around.

“It’s kind of a tradition,” said Bomber head coach Paul LaPolice. “It’s probably the only thing we do with our rookies. We don’t believe in rookie shows because they’re part of the team.

“I would hope the players wouldn’t count me as a rookie, even though I am a rookie head coach so no, I didn’t do my dance.”

SLOW SALES: The Bombers had only sold about 24,500 tickets as of 5 p.m. Thursday.

— With files from Kirk Penton


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