TORONTO - Bob Nicholson and Jim Barker are right — the Argonauts, in many ways, are a lot further ahead now than they were at the same time a year ago.
One or the other noted during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday that the Argos’ ownership issue long has been settled, those on the coaching staff now are familiar with each other and, for the most part, the players who helped to start turn the Argos around in 2010 are back.
But there’s a question that’s not much different than it was 12 months ago and neither Nicholson, the president of the Boatmen, nor Barker, the head coach and general manager, can give a solid answer: Who will be the starting quarterback for the Argos’ opener on July 1 in Calgary?
The query doesn’t concern Barker nearly to the degree it might have in May of 2010. No less than six men — Cleo Lemon, Steven Jyles, Dalton Bell, Danny Brannagan, Matt Grothe and B.J. Hall — who are paid to move the football will be in uniform on June 1 when quarterbacks and rookies hit the field at the Argos’ training facility at Erindale in Mississauga.
One of Lemon, Jyles or Bell, barring something unforeseen, will be under centre against the Stampeders on Canada Day. None has yet risen to the status of steely Canadian Football League veteran, but the little bit of experience that each quarterback has puts the Argos, in Barker’s mind, ahead of where they were a year ago.
“They’re going to understand what they are seeing much better, and their decision-making should be much better,” Barker said. “We have taken the offence and tweaked it to the things that Cleo and Dalton do well. Steven brings us some mobility, some ability to stretch the defence from a running game standpoint.”
Some assume that since it took a first-round pick to acquire Jyles from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, he has been pencilled in as the starter. That has not happened, but it’s clear Lemon will have to demonstrate he has grown after getting the majority of Toronto’s starts in 2010. It won’t help him that Jyles is more mobile.
“There were times when (Lemon) was indecisive when to pull the ball down,” Barker said. “I thought he ran the ball at times well, but he needs to learn how to slide. It was an issue and he fumbled twice on slides.”
What Barker hopes will be revealed in training camp — vets arrive on June 4 — is that there’s an increased flow involving the quarterbacks and receivers. If the progression is at the stage that Barker thinks it will be, then players will let their natural abilities take charge ahead of over-thinking. Let’s hope he is right, because the passing game can’t be much worse than it was a year ago.
“Last year we were a team that played on paper,” Barker said. “If (the play) said to go 12 yards, then we went 12 yards. The game is not played on paper.
“Players now will have a much better understanding of what we want to do, and go out and play the game. Everybody was in the right spot, but we were not getting open, not doing the things that we had to do to get open.”
Though the position of quarterback will be hotly contested and ultimately determine whether the Argos can build off a 9-9 season, it’s not going to be the lone source of competition at camp. With Adriano Belli retired and Eric Taylor gone to the B.C. Lions as a free agent, there’s a lack of depth of the defensive line. The Argos don’t have much interest in Mike Labinjo, recently released by the Calgary Stampeders, and they like Ricky Foley and Ronald Flemons off the ends. Kevin Huntley will be hard to budge from the inside, but a spot is open.
Imports Claude Wroten, Nate Robinson and Matthias Askew, as well as Canadians Greg Alexandre and Adrian Davis, will be in the mix.
“I expect the competition to be as fierce there as it is at quarterback,” Barker said.