Argos' top pick to make debut

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:33 PM ET

VANCOUVER -- Jim Barker always figured that Joe Eppele would start in the Canadian Football League one day.

Just not so soon.

But thanks to three injuries along the offensive line, Eppele, the Argos' first pick, second overall in the 2010 Canadian draft, will line up at left tackle on Saturday afternoon when quarterback Cleo Lemon takes the initial snap against the B.C. Lions at Empire Field.

"We drafted Joe Eppele to be a player here, and he is going to get an opportunity maybe before you want him to, but everybody's time comes at some point," Barker said following the team's walkthrough under typically grey West Coast skies.

"I would like him to have the whole year to learn what is going on, but that doesn't happen all the time."

Eppele will replace Rob Murphy, who is nursing an injured left heel and might have played had the Argos not had such a short turnaround after the Labour Day loss in Hamilton just five days ago. Eppele hails from these parts and attended Washington State, but was not about to cop to knowing whether he would start.

Perhaps he was little shell-shocked with the realization that he's going to be thrown into the proverbial fire.

"It would be nice to start, but you never know," the 6-foot-8, 306-pounder said. "It has been a little frustrating (to not have played in the first half of the season), but I was able to take advantage and learn from the guys. I'll look at it as more of a positive."

Eppele won't be the only new face on the line. The Argos sent out an all-points bulletin this week when it became clear that Murphy, Cedric Gagne-Marcoux (calf) and Chris Van Zeyl (back) would be unavailable, and they managed to snare import Calvin Armstrong, who was set adrift on Tuesday by the Edmonton Eskimos.

A West Division all-star last year, Armstrong learned of his release approximately an hour before his wife, Eva, went into the delivery room to give birth to Allison, the couple's first child, on Tuesday night.

Armstrong joined his new teammates on Thursday night and will back up Shannon Boatman, who takes the place of Van Zeyl, at right tackle.

"In my pro career, it was the toughest thing I had to go through," Armstrong, another man-mountain at 6-foot-7 and 320 pounds, said. "But when I had so much going on in my personal life, it affects you. Edmonton had some tough choices to make, but do I agree with them? Of course not."

Jeff Keeping will step in for Gagne-Marcoux at left guard. How the new look affects the Argos offence, specifically the run game, will be one of the more intriguing aspects that reveals itself. The biggest adjustments will be for Lemon and running back Cory Boyd.

Boyd knows he will be a target because opponents have been keying on him all season.

"Cory Boyd is the kind of athlete you have to stay on the whole time," Lions head coach Wally Buono said. "He's not the kind of back you can relax on."

And Boyd is hoping for rain, as he thought it could open up the run game.

Whatever unfolds, Barker hopes he isn't peeking between his fingers by the time he trots on to the field at the game's conclusion. No head coach wants to make so many changes in one shot, but Barker had no other options.

"I've been in the league since 1996, and I never seen three (offensive linemen go down) in one week," Barker said. "You play the hand you are dealt. We have three new linemen that we didn't have on Monday, and that's part of what this league is about."

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca


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