Argos defence goes on the defensive

Toronto Argonauts' Kevin Huntley takes to the field at Erindale College in Mississauga on Wednesday...

Toronto Argonauts' Kevin Huntley takes to the field at Erindale College in Mississauga on Wednesday for practice. (Dave Thomas/QMI Agency)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:43 PM ET

Want to tick off some of the largest human beings in the Argos locker room?

Mention the team's sack total a season ago. Then step back.

Equating sack totals with a defensive line's effectiveness isn't just a risk to one's own health, in the Argos case, it's just flat-out wrong.

The Argos sacked opposing quarterbacks 34 times last season. Only the woeful Edmonton Eskimos had fewer.

Apparently Kevin Huntley hears this too often because even at the mention of last year's defensive accomplishments and before you can get to the fact that the Argos gave up fewer points than any other defence in the league, he launches into an explanation for the lack of sacks.

"If you look at the film, how can you get sacks if a team is leaving seven, eight and nine guys in to protect against a three- or four-man front?" Huntley asks. "That's what gave our DB's the ability to do some things. At the same time our DB's allowed us to do some things like our sack-fest against BC where we had like nine sacks and something like one or two sacks off the CFL record just because we were able to get to the point where we could just go.

"Everything about our defence doesn't revolve around sacks," Huntley said. "Some things are about just being where you are supposed to be and if the play comes to you, make the play. When it's time to rush the passer, that's what we do. We go get our sacks."

George Dyer is the Argos defensive line coach and, in just his second year with the club, already has the type of relationship with his defensive lineman that there's not a wall they wouldn't go through for him.

In his first year with the Argos he helped turn Huntley into a CFL all-star and Ronald Flemons become the Argos' defensive player of the year.

"I was at a point in time where I didn't believe in coaching," Huntley admitted Wednesday. "I didn't necessarily believe in coaches because they would smile in front of your face and talk about you behind your back. Coach Dyer is a standup guy. He will tell you how he feels to your face whether you do something bad or good. That's what I like about him and that's why I respect him. He's brought me back to respecting my coaches."

Like Huntley, the mere mention of sack totals as any type of barometer of defensive effectiveness has Dyer shaking his head before the question is even finished.

"Everybody wants sacks but we want to win football games," Dyer said. "Sometimes you can't do that by turning everyone loose and rushing the passer. We spyed last year, we did things we had to do to win the football game. I wouldn't have traded our front four for any in the country last year. I loved them. I loved every one of them.

"They are team guys. They care about each other, they care about defence. They care about the team winning and that's what we're about."

Dyer returns 3/4 of his front four from a year ago with import Claude Wroten taking the place of Eric Taylor, who has moved on to B.C.

As popular as Taylor was, the hope is that Wroten will be an upgrade.

Even with limited change on either side of the ball, head coach Jim Barker expects the defence should be able to improve on the league-leading 24.6 points they allowed a year ago.

"I expect our defence to play even better with an offence that maybe stays on the field a little bit more," Barker said. "That was one of our problems last year. Our offence wasn't on the field very much."

A more comfortable Cleo Lemon, not to mention a year working together, should make that a good bet.

"We have to wait to see Claude Wroten but he is very disruptive in the middle and you put him next to Kevin Huntley and that's a lot for teams to handle. Then you put Foley and Flemons coming off the edge and you have Jason Pottinger (middle linebacker) who has got two healthy knees this year which he didn't have last year. He played the whole year on a slightly banged-up knee."

Put all that together and Barker sees strides being made on both sides of the ball.

"I think we're just a different defence maybe with the same people for the most part," Barker said.

mike.ganter@sunmedia.ca


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