TORONTO - If the numbers game and his play thus far in camp didn’t already favour Miguel Robede’s chances at gainful employment with the Toronto Argonauts, his ability to fill the void left by another gregarious defensive tackle just might.
Robede, the former first overall pick by the Stampeders in the 2005 draft, is, according to head coach Jim Barker, the French version of retired Argonauts defensive tackle Adriano Belli.
Not that Robede is going to greet everyone he meets with a kiss like Belli would, but he will keep things loose like football’s kissing bandit was known to do.
“He’s Belli-like in a French way,” Barker explained. “There is only one Belli, but Miguel is a character. He keeps the room light, he’s one of those guys who loves to play, loves his teammates and that’s why he’s here.”
Barker was the Stamps GM in 2005 when they made the former Laval standout the first overall pick in the draft, but said his past relationship has nothing to do with Robede’s arrival in Toronto now.
“He’s a guy I think has a chance to help us win a Grey Cup,” Barker said.
The trade that brought Robede to Toronto was a two for two (there was also a swap of unnamed negotiation-list players) with a pair of receivers and a pair of d-linemen switching sides.
Import defensive tackle Adrian Davis missed the final eight Argos games of last season with a concussion and was shipped out. Robede missed the final two Calgary games also with a concussion and was shipped in.
“They got our concussion problems and we got their concussion problems,” Barker said. “Both have been symptom-free for six months.”
Robede suffered his concussion while trying to get up off the ground and back into a play. Teammate Tom Johnson was still on his feet as Robede tried to regain his.
“I fell down; as I tried to get up and Johnson was running by me,” Robede said rehashing a foggy memory. “Getting up I exposed my chin and I received a 290-pound knee under the chin. From there I saw some blackness and then after that I don’t remember much at all.”
The next four weeks were a bit of a blur for Robede who couldn’t deal with sunlight, electronics or even everyday conversation.
“The sunlight was killing me. The retina gets big and it stays wide open. The first week was bad. The second week I was getting better but it took a good four weeks before I could say I was normal.”
Just how bad it was struck home one day soon after the concussion when Robede tried to make himself a simple meat sandwich.
“I was trying to cut the meat and telling my fingers to move and my fingers wouldn’t move,” he said. “I was cutting my fingers every time I tried to (cut the meat).”
It was at that point that Robede knew he had to shut things down. An avid hunter in the off-season in his native Quebec, Robede returned home and spent about a week and a half in almost complete solitude in a hunting shack in the middle of the woods 150 km from Quebec City.
“No TV, no lights, just rest all day and go to sleep pretty early,” Robede said of his self-imposed exile. “No stress. No phone. My mom was calling me all the time to see what was going on. My Dad was phoning to see if I was going to play football again. My friends were calling me. Everything was pressure, so I closed the phone and went to the shack. I had a buddy that came and that was enough.”
By the end of it, Robede was starting to feel normal again. Now he feels good enough to take on offensive linemen again.
For a while in Argos camp, it seemed all Robede’s competition was drying up. Rookie DT Matthias Askew injured an ankle and was released. Rookie Nate Robinson was put on the suspended list to allow him to return home for his brother’s funeral. Robinson, though, could be back as soon as today. Claud Wroten, who impressed at the Florida free agent camp in April, has yet to arrive in Toronto. A slew of outstanding traffic tickets from California to Mississippi are at the root of his problems although Barker is confident his legal representation will eventually get that worked out.
Robede is well aware of his competition — or lack thereof — but he’s seen enough in his five years in the league to know not to count on anything.
“I just do my best and don’t rely on anything,” he said. “If the job is mine, it’s mine. I’m going to take the piece of the pie they give me. I can’t grab the piece I want. That’s how I see it now and it’s better for me like that.”
The Argos will hold a team srimmage, a version of the old Blue-White game, this afternoon at the Univeristy of Toronto’s Erindale campus in Mississauga.
Complete with referees, the Argos will run a series of offensive, defensive and special teams plays to give their players an idea of what to expect a week later when they play host to the rival Hamilton Tiger-Cats in a 1 p.m. tilt at the Rogers Centre.
“It will be more of a live situation,” Barker said of the mock game which begins at 1:30 p.m. on the Upper Field at Erindale. “We still won’t take backs down (or receivers for that matter) but more live so when we play next Saturday against Hamilton it won’t be their first time in a game-type setting.”
The lack of tackling will extend only to the areas between the 10-yard lines. Once inside the 10, tackling will be permitted.