TORONTO - As much as Chad Owens and Cory Boyd helped the Argonauts win nine games during the regular season, the club wouldn’t be in the Canadian Football League playoffs had the defence not been such a stingy bunch.
It took some time to come together as many integral players were learning new positions or getting first-string reps for the first time, but the defence had allowed the fewest points by the time the curtain fell on the 2010 CFL regular season.
“Isn’t that something?” safety and defensive captain Willie Pile said.
“One of the most important stats in football is how many points you give up, and we finished first. It’s something to hang our hat on this year.”
Though Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Kevin Glenn was strong through 18 games, it’s hard to see how the East Division semifinal winds up as a high-scoring barn-burner on Sunday. The Argos offence probably couldn’t sustain such a show, as the Ticats defence nearly was as good as the Argos. Toronto allowed an average of 24.6 points a game; Hamilton was right behind at 25 points allowed on average.
Pile learned in the spring that he would be moved to safety from linebacker, as head coach Jim Barker and his staff made it clear they had confidence Pile could be the on-field director.
It was a wise move, as Pile was one of four members of the Argos defence, along with defensive back Lin-J Shell, linebacker Kevin Eiben and tackle Kevin Huntley to be voted East Division all-stars on Wednesday.
They were joined on the East all-star team by Boyd and lineman Rob Murphy on offence, and Owens on special teams, giving the Argos seven all-stars after they had none a year ago.
Truth be told, though, there were no guarantees with the defence when the season began to unfold.
Jordan Younger was moved to linebacker from cornerback, Jason Pottinger was starting at linebacker after four years mostly on special teams and first-year CFL players Evan McCollough and Alex Buzbee had been thrust into starting roles.
As the season progressed, the defence overcame injuries to important players such as Adriano Belli and Kevin Huntley. End Ronald Flemons had a career year and Eric Taylor filled in nicely for Belli at tackle.
Overseeing the defence was co-ordinator Chip Garber, who had plenty of experience, but had not been a co-ordinator since 1999 when he was employed by Hofstra University.
“We were hoping it would be something like this, but I’ll be honest, we didn’t imagine that we could pull together something this strong so quickly,” Garber said. “We had a good core of players and we certainly had the maturity, and had a lot more veterans than the offence did.
“Those guys pulled things together. They were tired of what was going on in the win-loss column (in the two previous years) and they stepped up.”
Among those who was sick of losing was Pile, who was starting to forget about his first all-star nod not long after it was announced. Talk to the 30-year-old native of New York City for a couple of minutes and it’s easy to see why Barker and Garber felt assured that he could be a controller on defence.
“It’s why everybody comes up here (to play in Canada) — not for all stars, not for big contracts, but to win the Grey Cup,” Pile said. “That’s what can never be taken away from you. Money is going to fade, 12 more guys might be all-stars next year, but your name will be etched in that Cup for history. The fact we are here, in the playoffs, is a great start."