Lemon is all zest
By TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
|Quarterback Cleo Lemon talks to the other quarterbacks during the Toronto Argonauts free-agent football camp in Paisley, Fla., Wednesday, April 27, 2011.(PHELAN M. EBENHACK/QMI AGENCY)
A year ago, Cleo Lemon stood on the football field at Huron Park after the first day of Argonauts rookie camp and told reporters he was not thinking about finishing second in the battle to be the Boatmen's No. 1 quarterback.
Fast forward 12 months. Lemon's confidence is intact, even though he once again is involved in what should be an intense competition despite finishing the 2010 season as the starter.
"Hey, it's life," said Lemon, after the Argos' first on-field workout involving rookies and quarterbacks, one that was done in sunny and windy conditions at the team's training facility at Erindale in Mississauga.
"I'm a competitor, man. Even when football is done, I will compete. It's part of my DNA."
Lemon is one of five quarterbacks who were on the gridiron Wednesd ay for the first day of rookie camp along with Dalton Bell, Steven Jyles, Danny Brannagan and B.J. Hall.
Bell was fairly sharp in his reps, but Jyles has been grounded for now. Acquired from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the winter, Jyles had off-season surgery on his right shoulder. Things were looking good for his participation in camp from Day 1 until about a week ago.
Following workouts, Jyles felt some tenderness in his shoulder.
"It's disappointing," Jyles said. "It's hard to sit here and watch these guys play football and not be able to participate. I would rather be careful with it than come out and make things worse."
It might be a bit early to sound alarm bells, but the longer Jyles watches, the less his chances are of starting in the regular-season opener in Calgary against the Stampeders on July 1.
Veterans arrive on Saturday for physicals and will be on the field on Sunday, but Jyles said he hopes to be throwing the football on Friday.
Lemon does not have the same injury concerns -- in fact, quite the opposite. Lemon had surgery to repair some ligament damage in the pinky finger on his throwing hand in January and the finger is more than healed.
"When you strengthen the part of your body you need work on, it comes back stronger than it was before," Lemon said. "I feel like that's what happened with that."
Where some might be concerned that the Argos didn't have enough faith in a guy to name him the No. 1 guy after he was the starter in all but one game the previous season, it's clear general manager/ head coach Jim Barker thinks Lemon needs to be pushed. That will come from Bell and Jyles, once he is healthy. If Barker keeps one quarterback on the practice roster, it will be Hall or Brannagan.
The bottom line is the Argos produced the fewest points in the Canadian Football League in 2010, and Barker has thrown the door open for someone to emerge from camp.
"It's fantastic to watch and see who steps up," Barker said. "For Cleo, last year he won the job and this year he is competing again, and watching how he responds to that is all part of his development as a quarterback. Dalton battles. They are on even ground, and hopefully we will get Steven back soon."
That Lemon has to prove himself is no big deal to the 31-year-old.
"I have something to prove every year," Lemon said. "I think that's what keeps me playing. I like proving everyone wrong and I have been doing it my whole life."
And where Lemon knew he was getting his feet wet a year ago, his outlook now is different.
"I just feel confident, whenever I am gripping the ball or calling audibles, that there is no doubt in my mind that I can complete a pass," Lemon said. "Nothing is going to hinder me from getting the job done."