MONTREAL — No wonder Cleo Lemon is finding it hard to get on a roll.
The Argonauts quarterback — how can we put this nicely — is taking some time to get adjusted to the Canadian Football League, and that was expected.
Lemon has been getting time in the pocket, but has not been rolling out to make plays. Any quarterback who wants to be successful in the CFL has to have that ability.
But Argos head coach Jim Barker will stick with Lemon, even though Lemon isn’t brimming with mobility.
“I don’t know that rolling out is what he does best,” Barker said in a rather frank statement after the Argos lost 41-10 to the Montreal Alouettes on Thursday night. “We can do more play action, pulling the ball, bringing him out like we did earlier in the year.”
Other than a drive in the first quarter which resulted in their only touchdown, the Argos and their offence went together like Mel Gibson and minority groups. The Argos mostly are devoid of experience in the receiving corps, excluding Jeremaine Copeland, and that is not going to help Lemon develop.
Take running back Cory Boyd out of the offence and it’s frightening to think of where the Argos might be. The Alouettes did exactly that, limiting the CFL’s rushing leader to 53 yards. Montreal wanted to ensure that Lemon had to rely on the passing game, and once it forced Lemon into throwing the ball, the Argos did not come close to scoring.
In five starts, Lemon has thrown only four interceptions, but just three touchdown passes. And two of those came in one game.
With just a game in Edmonton against the Eskimos left before the Argos hit the one-third mark of the regular season, the passing game actually is worse than it was last year under Bart Andrus. Toronto is averaging 197.8 yards a game in the air. In 2009, it averaged 229.3 yards with Kerry Joseph, a mark that was seventh in the league. Prior to Friday night’s game between Edmonton and B.C., the Calgary Stampeders were seventh in the CFL with an average of 268.2 yards a game.
Despite the nasty evidence, Barker is committed to Lemon, and said he is “happy with Cleo.” Take that, Dalton Bell.
“I think he is continuing to grow,” Barker said with a bit of an edge in his voice. “Throw anybody over there (in Montreal’s locker room) who has not played in the league and it is going to take him time. We understand that. We are 3-2 with a guy who is learning to manage the game and it is going to take him time.”
Lemon said his confidence remains intact and that he is growing. Als quarterback Anthony Calvillo gave Lemon some support.
“It was not really until I got here to Montreal (in 1998) that I got a chance to gain respect,” Calvillo said. “It does not happen overnight. It takes time. Any quarterback that is trying to grow, the main thing is to gain the confidence of the locker room.”
For now, Lemon probably has it, given the Argos’ 3-2 record, even if it has come without much offensive help. And in support of Lemon, it could be a full season before he gets a firm grip on football north of the Canada-U.S. border. But Lemon will turn 31 on Aug. 16, which means he is not a young quarterback. So time is of the essence.
“Did he make mistakes (against Montreal)? Sure,” Barker said. “But he also made some good throws and did some good things. As a total offence, we did not get into a rhythm.”