TORONTO - Football players are a tough bunch, usually ready to play through most injuries, and it’s not uncommon for them to do so when they have no business being on the field.
But something as insignificant as a hangnail could keep a guy out of the lineup this Sunday afternoon when the Argonauts and Montreal Alouettes contest the last game of the 2010 Canadian Football League regular season.
This is what happens when the playoffs are inching closer by the day, but will the Argos be able to carry out head coach Jim Barker’s weekly mission, which is to improve over the previous game? With so many regulars either playing limited reps or none at all, how can improvement be gauged, let alone achieved?
“It’s about (whether) guys get to the right gap, do they do the things they are supposed to do defensively,” Barker said after practice at Holy Trinity Catholic in Oakville, where the Argos likely will continue to work out until their season is finished.
“Offensively, are we running the proper routes, are we getting the ball out of our hand? Are we blocking correctly? Those are the things that are important.
“We understand this game means nothing (as far as playoff implications go), and nothing for them, too.”
Star running back Cory Boyd has been nursing a sore groin and a decision on whether he plays will be made on Friday (we would bet that Boyd will be doing a lot of cheerleading, since it makes zero sense to risk losing him for the playoffs). Special teams sensation Chad Owens, as Barker said, is critical for the team, and don’t be surprised if he watches a lot as well.
Thanks to other nicks and bruises, figure on slotback Jeremaine Copeland, and cornerbacks Byron Parker (leg) and Willie Middlebrooks (neck) to be scratched.
Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman, who knows he will be pacing the sideline during the East final on Nov. 21 at Olympic Stadium, will not use quarterback Anthony Calvillo, running back Avon Cobourne, receivers Ben Cahoon, Jamel Richardson and Kerry Watkins, guard Scott Flory, defensive end Anwar Stewart and linebacker Chip Cox, among others. Linebacker Diamond Ferri (knee), safety Matthieu Proulx (hamstring) and returner Larry Taylor (hip).
Sounds like it could be a real barn-burner, eh?
“It’s going to be different, and all the guys will notice that,” Argos safety Willie Pile said. “But you don’t want to say the last game doesn’t count, because we have a chance to finish with nine wins, which is pretty respectable based on where we came from.
“The guys in our locker room have a lot of pride. Regardless of who is on the field, we want to make plays and leave a mark.”
The Argos will face quarterback Adrian McPherson, which could be a good thing in that he is closer in style to Hamilton’s Kevin Glenn, who the Argos will have to stop in the East semi, than Calvillo.
And Barker will have an opportunity to see some of his own players in opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have been granted.
“I’m anxious to watch guys like (receivers) Spencer Watt and Mike Bradwell and Brandon Rideau play,” Barker said. “We’re not going to take any chances — if a guy has a nick, he is not going to play.”
For Boyd and Owens, not playing could cost them some big-time individual accolades. Boyd is 11 yards ahead of Winnipeg’s Fred Reid for the rushing crown, a mark Boyd likely would have won had he not missed two games with a concussion. Owens, with 2,701 kick return yards, needs 178 to break the league record of 2,878 set by Eric Blount in 1998.
But both said they would understand Barker’s motives if they sat out.
“You don’t go into a season trying to break records,” Owens said. “Getting a record does not get you a Grey Cup.”