TORONTO - Taylor Robertson has seen plenty in his nine years in the CFL.
But this year marks only the second time in this offensive guard’s career that he can recall coming back to the same offensive system he learned the year before.
“Any time you come back to a team that (runs) the same offence — I haven’t had this since 2006 because we’ve changed coaches every year since — you are already ahead. Then if you can bring back the majority of your 10 or 12 starters you are going to be ahead that much more.”
Based on Robertson’s gauge, Argos head coach and GM Jim Barker may well be selling his own team short when he says they are 10 times ahead of where they were last year.
When you compare the Argo’ starting roster of a year ago to today’s, the turnover is rather limited in terms of starting positions. On defence Claude Wroten takes over from Adrian Davis/Adriano Belli at defensive tackle, Sammy Smalls who filled in late in the year for the injured Willie Middlebrooks now has a cornerback spot to call his own while on offence one new receiver — likely Spencer Watt — will start at inside receiver, with Brandon Rideau moving outside.
The rest of the starters from a year ago are all back.
“I do believe there has to be turnover every year,” Barker said. “There has to be changes but I don’t have a prescribed number like 25% of our roster needs to turn over.”
But if there is one area Barker is happy to see back in its totality it is his offensive line along with line coach Steve McAdoo.
Robertson, too, couldn’t be happier.
“Now it’s a matter of fine-tuning whereas last year it was a learning process and installation process,” Robertson said. “Now the staff has had all off-season to look at all the little things we did wrong last year and how we can correct them. Now we can focus on those things and that’s when you start to become an excellent team.”
The Argos’ offensive line had a decent campaign last year, as the Argos averaged 120.8 yards a game on the rush. As a group they allowed 48 sacks which was towards the back end of the league leaders but that was with a rookie quarterback learning the CFL on the fly.
Robertson said the O-line returns not only knowing it can improve but expecting it.
“We have the expectation amongst ourselves to be the best out there,” Robertson said. “We are always going to get better and better. We will not stay complacent. That’s one thing we have learned from Mac (McAdoo). We know last year that we did well, we had some decent yardage games but we don’t have a Grey Cup ring on right now so we didn’t do good enough. We have to go out there and be better and that’s what we’re going to be.”
Robertson already sees plenty of improvement in returning starting quarterback Cleo Lemon, primarily in two areas.
“Focus and confidence,” Robertson said of Lemon’s biggest gains in year two with the Argos. “He came up here as a rookie last year and for a quarterback to come up here and be 9-9 I think is pretty damn good. I don’t think he got a lot of the credit he deserved.
“But he came back this year and really studied the CFL game, not just what we do here but what happens around the league and how the system works up here. It’s a different ball game. He has a better understanding of that and he has the confidence behind him to go out there and make plays whereas before it was still that adjustment period. You play with confidence, anyone is going to be 10 times better.”
Throw in the return of Cory Boyd who came out of nowhere a season ago to become the beast of the Argos rushing game and a receiving corps that returns its mainstays and has added some better depth behind the starters, not to mention a veteran defence that held opposing teams to a league low 24.6 points a game a year ago and you understand why Robertson is openly talking about a Grey Cup even though the team has yet to play a game.
“I think we have upgraded at almost every position,” Robertson said. “When you have a year like we did last year, you’re good but you’re not good enough so you need to make changes. We haven’t made too many but the one’s that we have are going to make a big impact for us and make a big difference.”
Robertson arrived in Toronto in 2007, three years after their last Grey Cup. He was in Calgary from 2003-2006 leaving two years before their last Cup in 2008. He’s been on some good teams over the course of nine years but has yet to make it to a Grey Cup. Could 2011 be his year?
“It’s got to be man,” Robertson said. “I’m running out of time for sure.
“Last year was a little bit of a flash of what could happen and hopefully this year we can finish it up and end on a good note.”