Test time for Argos' Lemon

Cleo Lemon will start the season as the Argos' No. 1 quarterback, but he'll have to show a little...

Cleo Lemon will start the season as the Argos' No. 1 quarterback, but he'll have to show a little more than he did last year to stay there. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:11 AM ET

TORONTO - It has been smooth sailing for quarterback Cleo Lemon to this point in 2011.

Training camp was a relative walk in the park with Steven Jyles suffering a post- shoulder-surgery setback and then Dalton Bell sidelined temporarily, leaving Jim Barker no reason not to declare Lemon his opening-day starter.

In fairness, Lemon played well enough throughout camp to win the job even if Jyles and Bell had been healthy.

Lemon arrived in camp healthy after off-season surgery to repair a torn ligament in the pinky finger of his throwing hand. He also had slimmed down enough from a year ago to the point where he’s quicker when he’s flushed out of the pocket and admittedly has a comfort level with the league that just wasn’t there in his first year.

But now the real test begins.

Can Lemon, with a year under his belt and an improved receiving corps, start to win the Argos football games as opposed to just keeping them in them.

How many games of the nine regular-season wins a year ago were actually because Cleo Lemon was the starting quarterback?

The Argos scored 36 points in a Week 2 win in Winnipeg but Lemon threw for 162 yards and not a single touchdown.

They won the home opener in Week 3 with Lemon throwing for 182 yards and another game without a TD pass.

Another win at home in Week 4 over B.C. saw Lemon throw for two strikes, and 222 yards through the air. The game, though, was won on a Byron Parker interception return for a touchdown late in the fourth.

Cory Boyd got credit for the Argos fourth win of the campaign in Week 6 in Edmonton for this two-touchdown, 164-yard rushing game. Lemon, too, was good in that one, throwing for 292 yards. But, again, the Argos did not win because of him.

Win No. 5 in Week 7 over Montreal could have been a game-ball week for Lemon, who threw three TDs, was not intercepted and finished the day with 269 yards passing, were it not for Chad Owens, his two TDs and 291 all-purpose yards.

Perhaps the only week where you could say with any certainty that Lemon was primarily responsible for a win came in Week 16 when he passed for over 200 yards, threw for a touchdown, and ran for another in a playoff-spot clinching 27-8 win over Winnipeg.

In football in general, and in the CFL in particular, quarterbacks have to win games for their teams. It’s a passing league and the guys throwing the passes have to carry the load.

Somehow — think special teams and Cory Boyd — the Argos got nine wins a year ago with just average quarterbacking. Not only can’t that happen again, it won’t and here is why.

Lemon was considered Barker’s only real option a year ago. Bell had a solid pre-season but even with Lemon struggling Barker was hesitant to turn things over to Bell.

An injury to Lemon forced him to try Bell in Week 13 but it was a one-game audition and with Lemon good enough to go the following week Barker went back to his starter.

Even when Lemon injured his throwing hand in September, Barker and the Argos chose to put a glove on it and stay with Lemon.

The Argos GM and head coach remains fully confident in Lemon’s abilities but has given indications throughout training camp that should Lemon struggle this year, he won’t be so hesitant to go in a different direction.

Jyles, who was brought along very slowly during training camp after re-aggravating his surgically repaired shoulder, could be a factor sooner than anyone believed.

Quick return

Heading into the final cuts this weekend, it was thought the former Blue Bomber was headed to the nine-game injured list, but TSN was reporting Saturday that Jyles instead would be placed on the one-game injured list.

Bell, who was unavailable for the final pre-season tune-up in Winnipeg because of a groin injury, will be ready to serve as Lemon’s backup for the season opener in Calgary on Friday. Bell was equally as efficient as Lemon in the first pre-season and, like Lemon, appears more comfortable with the offence with a year under his belt.

Give Lemon full credit for doing what he had to to retain his starting status. But it says here he’s going to have to give the Argos more than he did a year ago to keep it.


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