How much longer can Argos keep inept Lemon?

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:14 PM ET

MONTREAL — It is too easy to pile on Cleo Lemon right now, but after the Alouettes did so in an embarrassingly non-competitive afternoon of football, it’s also too tempting not to join in.

Argos coach Jim Barker can get angry when questioned about his underachieving quarterback and deny the significance of his struggles until he turns Double Blue in the face.

But without a competent man behind centre, it’s extremely difficult to move beyond smoke and mirrors success in the CFL, or any football league for that matter.

Cleo Lemon didn’t lose the Eastern Division championship to the Alouettes all by himself on Sunday, he had plenty of help, particularly from a defence that had no answer for Anthony Calvillo and Avon Cobourne.

But in two playoff games, all Lemon could lead his offence to was one lousy touchdown. The lone major score in Sunday’s 48-17 beatdown came in garbage time with Dalton Bell in to get his feet wet.

Afterwards, Barker continued his defence of Lemon, becoming particularly irritated when asked if the first-year CFLer would return next season.

While it’s true it is far too early for such decisions, it’s equally unfathomable that the status of Lemon won’t at least be a lengthy off-season discussion point among Argos brass.

“The off-season is the off-season, don’t even ask that question,” Barker said. “We know we have some issues. A lot of the problems we were having were not all Cleo. Cleo Lemon won 10 games for us this year on a team that won seven (combined) the last two years.”

Saying Lemon “won” 10 games for the Argos is a stretch by any measure.

Many of those, it can be argued quite strenuously, were accomplished in spite of him. And Sunday, before 58,000-plus at Olympic Stadium, he once again struggled spectacularly.

At halftime, with the Argos prospects essentially buried, Lemon had just three of nine attempts and looked shaky in the process. At the end, he was 11 for 21 and 169 yards with two interceptions.

Despite his early struggles, Barker said he gave no thought to bringing Bell in earlier. If the good ship Argonaut was going down, it was going to be with Lemon at the helm.

What did he look like? Well, there was the usual array of off-target throws but worst, against an Alouettes secondary that has been vulnerable at times, Lemon couldn’t make any headway. His tentativeness and lack of instinct outside of the pocket has continued to be his undoing.

In fairness, the learning curve to become a quarterback in the CFL isn’t always easy and Lemon is still in the early stages. But after a full season and two playoff games, has there been enough signs of progress?

“On the field, I wish I could have made some more plays here and there but it was a great learning experience,” Lemon said. “Do I want to come back and be that guy? Definitely. Who knows what’s in this store with this team.

“There are a lot of decisions that have to be made. If it’s up to me, I definitely want to be back.”

Lemon’s struggles are especially acute when compared to the accomplished veteran he watched conduct a CFL clinic on Sunday. Throwing for 334 yards and two touchdowns — including a killer 53-yard bomb to Jamal Richardson just 6:34 into the game — Anthony Calvillo certainly showed Lemon where the bar should be.

“That’s the level I’ve got to try to obtain,” Lemon said. “Being a first-year player and learning the game and just getting accustomed to it, that’s a guy you really have to have respect for.”

From the moment he was named starting quarterback — by default many would argue — you kept expecting for Lemon to start to get it, to start moving in the right direction.

The fact that he hasn’t raises the question, whether Barker approves or not: How much longer can his team afford to wait?


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