Argos buoyed by Copeland's likely return

MIKE GANTER, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:15 PM ET

Jim Barker didn’t understand the question when he was asked what else Jeremaine Copeland brings to the table besides his obvious pass catching abilities.

Barker was shocked anyone would need to ask such a question.

But then Barker and Copeland go back a lot longer than Copeland and anyone else in Toronto.

And to say Barker is thrilled his leader on offence and leader in the locker room will be back — medical clearance pending — this Sunday when the Argos take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, is not an overstatement.

Despite going into a week with his starting running back already ruled out and a second-year lineman who didn’t see the field in his first season protecting his quarterback’s blind side, Barker is downright giddy at the prospect of this Sunday’s matchup with the Bombers.

It speaks more to his comfort level with Copeland than it does any discomfort he might feel at the other two positions.

“He wins everywhere he goes,” Barker said of Copeland who he brought with him to Toronto from Calgary. “He knows what it takes to win. He brings a confidence and a swagger and a mentality of how to play receiver to the entire group. Now we are in the stretch run. This is where Cope takes another step. He comes in with eight games to go and he’s fairly fresh because he hasn’t played in four weeks ... He’s just a special individual and every intangible it takes to win, that is what Jeremaine Copeland brings.”

And not to put too fine a point on it, but his absence has been duly noted.

When Copeland went down, the Argos were a healthy 5-2 and coming off a huge win over the Montreal Alouettes. In the three games he missed, the Argos failed to win a game, scored a total of three offensive touchdowns (two of them through the air) and didn’t have a single receiver catch more than seven passes or surpass 100 yards receiving during his absence.

Barker believes Copeland’s presence in the lineup alone will change that. Quarterback Cleo Lemon also believes that to be true.

“Cope is one of those guys who allows everyone else to raise their level of play,” Lemon said yesterday. “I think that is the definition of a true leader. That’s what he brings to the table. When he steps on that field, he makes everyone else pick it up and play to his level. Guys come out and block extra hard. They run routes and get their separation. That’s what he brings.”

In his absence, Lemon believes the effort was still there, but something was missing.

“(Those games) were tough. The guys fought hard and were well prepared. They made plays and did what they had to do but to get (Copeland) back will help us tremendously.”

And it’s not just the young rookies who will reap the rewards of Copeland’s return. Lemon believes his game will improve as well with Copeland back.

“He makes plays,” Lemon said. “He has seen it all. I have great confidence in him. I know if he can get his hands on it, he will bring it in and with me having that mentality I will always give him the chance to make a big play.”

It is not a criticism to say the Argos receiving corps as a whole has not exactly set the league on fire. They are a young group and they are learning but without Copeland around, they seemed adrift.

Chad Owens has had some pretty special games, none bigger than the week 7 37-22 win over Montreal when Owens hauled in six passes for 163 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But try finding another receiving highlight for an Argo this season.

Brandon Rideau has shown brief flashes. James Robinson had a two touchdown game a week ago in B.C. but that was in a losing cause. Chad Lucas is gone. Jeffrey Webb also.

There is not a single Argo among the top 20 receivers in the league in terms of yardage. In Copeland’s absence, the rest of the receiving corps went even further backward.

Copeland doesn’t need to come in and have a 163-yard game to be effective, although it wouldn’t be unwelcome. The hope is that his return makes the entire offence better just with him being on the field.

Officially Copeland had not received medical clearance to play as of yesterday, but the thinking is the Argos would not have released veteran receiver Chad Lucas earlier this week if there was any threat of Copeland missing the game.

Barker certainly seems to be counting on him.

“What intangibles are important to winning games?,” Barker asked turning the question back on his questioner. “If you can answer that question then that’s what he brings.”


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