Special season for Argos

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:39 PM ET

TORONTO - Of all the accomplishments achieved during this unlikely of Argonauts seasons, perhaps the biggest is how the team put the special back on special teams.

A live-on-the-edge mentality resulted in gadget plays that moved the chains, creative scheming that produced touchdowns and a mindset that wasn't afraid to take chances when the game's circumstance dictated a more conservative tact.

Whether Cleo Lemon is able to step up to the challenge and make plays with his arm is one of the storylines heading into Sunday's Eastern final in Montreal.

Prowess

How the Argos decide to defend quarterback Anthony Calvillo and the Als' much-vaunted passing game is another.

But there's one area where the Argos have a decided advantage, one of football's three phases that cannot be disputed.

It involves special teams and more than anything it'll be interesting to see how the Als come up with a game plan to neutralize Chad Owens.

Owens' prowess on returns is well documented, his coronation as the CFL's top special-teams player a mere formality.

But the Argos' special teams encompass more than Owens, an Alouette assassin who torched his former team in three regular-season meetings, combining for 665 yard on special teams and three touchdowns.

Ryan Christian, who will make his return to the lineup on Sunday, returned a kickoff an Argos record 110 yards.

Each is fast, capable of attacking a cover unit's edge, be it on punt or kickoffs.

A lot of the Argos' success this past season, a dimension that was truly showcased in last week's win in the Hammer, is their Canadian depth.

The team knew of Matt Black's presence, but it took last week's 16-13 win over the Ticats for the CFL to take notice.

Grant Shaw began the year as the team's placekicker, but his athleticism and recklessness have been a boon on special teams.

"It's great to see these guys step up,'' Bryan Crawford said.

Crawford serves as the unit's captain, the epitome of professionalism who is slowly making inroads in his recovery from an abductor injury.

Admittedly, the most painful experience of his football career unfolded last week at Ivor Wynne Stadium, where Crawford, a Hamilton native, watched from the sidelines, unable to help, but offering encouragement.

It won't be known until Saturday whether Crawford suits up against the Als, but he finished as the CFL's leader in special-teams tackles and has a knack and a feel for when a trick play should be called.

The Argos are one step away from playing in a Grey Cup because of their special teams, an area that simply must make plays and win the battle of field position if they are to upset the Als.

Wind won't be a factor, but the biggest factor just might be in how the Als adjust to Toronto's special teams.

Damon Duval has struggled when called upon to make field goals, an area that is very vulnerable for a long return following a wayward attempt.

Noel Prefontaine has the stronger leg and is athletic to be used in any chicanery the Argos might have up their sleeve.

"At the crux of special teams is who blocks whom,'' Argos head coach Jim Barker said.

At least during the regular season, the Argos were far superior than most teams, but in particular in their meetings with Montreal.

In Hamilton, the Argos' special teams recovered two fumbles, including one turnover that resulted in Toronto's lone touchdown.

People like to point to the Argos' clutch late-game sequence from the shadow of their end zone, but it was Prefontaine's clever heave against the wind that gave the Ticats a long field.

Limits

The only concern heading into Montreal involves the health of Crawford and Jeff Johnson.

Crawford is much further along than Johnson.

"It's a fine balance between going too hard in practice to test it out and taking full advantage of the time you have to recover,'' Crawford said.

"You do have to test it beforehand, you do have to know your limits because you don't want to put the team at a disadvantage."


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