Lemon reflects on his first CFL season

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:54 PM ET

Now that he has had a couple of months to digest it, Cleo Lemon looks back on his first year in the Canadian Football League mostly with good feelings.

The Argonauts quarterback is at home in Jacksonville, Fla., recovering a week after he had surgery in Toronto on the pinky finger in his throwing hand.

“There were a lot of difficulties with the injury, but I am not going to make any excuses,” Lemon said on Wednesday during a telephone interview with the Toronto Sun. “Being the starter, being the guy, was a real step forward in my career.”

Lemon suffered ligament damage in his finger during a game against the B.C. Lions on Sept. 11. The drop in his production after that was noticeable. In five of six games prior to being hurt, Lemon passed for more than 200 yards. In the seven games that followed, he passed for over 200 yards only twice.

The extent of the injury was not learned by the Argos until early in December, when tests revealed the damage.

Lemon has no trouble recalling his low point in 2010. The Argos were in Moncton for Touchdown Atlantic near the end of September, coming off a home win in which they had barely beaten the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Lemon passed for just 90 yards and holding on to the football was a challenge.

“The first practice in Moncton was the worst of my professional career,” Lemon said. “It was my confidence, everything. Coach (Jim) Barker was growing frustrated because I could not secure the ball. I turned the ball over. I was fumbling. I’ve always taken care of the football and I was very concerned. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I just remember that practice did not give me much confidence.”

The game in Moncton versus the Edmonton Eskimos was a disaster, as Lemon was intercepted four times. Lemon did not play in the next game, the only time he did not start for the Argos last season, but Barker stuck with him afterward.

It’s the patience that Barker demonstrated with Lemon, who wore a glove on his hand to try to combat the injury, that has the quarterback grateful.

“You have to get comfortable with the game,” Lemon said. “To know the coach has confidence in you ... You’re not looking over your shoulder after every pass you make, you’re not looking over your shoulder after every read you make. It allowed me to go out and prepare and focus. If I thought I was hurting the team (in playing through the injury), I would have shut it down.”

It’s no wonder that Lemon thinks Barker should be a shoo-in for the CFL coach of the year. The three nominees for the award will be announced on Thursday, with the winner to be revealed on Feb. 25 in Vancouver during the league’s annual congress.

Most consider Barker the favourite and Lemon is no different. Including the playoffs, the Argos were 10-10 in 2010, a remarkable feat considering many didn’t think the club would win more than a handful of games.

“He came in and changed the culture, changed the whole direction of the team,” Lemon said. “I’m happy for him.”

Despite what he thought was an acceptable rookie season in the CFL, Lemon knows he will be guaranteed nothing when training camp opens in June. His finger will be in a cast for a couple of more weeks and then he will wear a splint for three weeks, but he expects to be healthy for training camp.

Lemon also knows that in the next several months, it’s conceivable that Barker, who since the loss to the Montreal Alouettes in the East final officially has become the Argos’ general manager, will add another quarterback to the roster.

“No matter what decisions are made, I’m going to prepare and not be afraid of anything,” Lemon said. “This is a year-to-year business. I’ve competed for a job everywhere in my career. It’s what I am built to do.”


Photos