Jim Barker is absolutely convinced a different Cleo Lemon will emerge to quarterback the Toronto Argonauts this season.
The coach may be convinced. He may also be alone in his thinking.
The Lemon of this year looked a little too much like the Lemon of last year in Friday night’s 22-16 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Friday night at Canad Inns Stadium. Yes, he does move around a little bit more. Yes, he isn’t throwing to the first receiver he looks at. But when it comes to making plays, looking confident, looking like the kind of leader a Canadian Football League team needs to be successful, taking control of the game, there is still something about Lemon that leaves you expecting more.
But you have to score touchdowns — and one won’t result in many victories for the now 1-1 Argos.
Last year, Barker said the offence, and coaching, was more to blame than the former National Football League starting quarterback.
Last year, the Argos like to tell you, they hung Lemon out to dry.
This year, with a new offence, with a more comfortable Lemon, the Argos were supposed to be different. But this year’s team is resembling last year’s 9-9 team — strong on defence, full of special teams surprises, and typically challenged on offence.
In fairness to Lemon, the Argos seem somewhat lacking in the receiver position in a traditional way. It’s hard enough to play quarterback in a limited offence. It becomes even more difficult when there is no go-to receiver. There are some solid CFL receivers — Jeremaine Copeland, Andre Durie (on short passes), Brandon Rideau — but nobody who scares anybody anymore.
Running back Cory Boyd scares people when the ball is in his hands, which didn’t happen often enough against the Bombers. But no one else on the Argos offence does. And that’s not anything new. That’s just about every Argos team of the last decade.
SMOKE AND MIRRORS
Nothing bothers coach Barker more than hearing last year’s Argos team referred to as a team that won with “smoke and mirrors.”
In fact, it has become something of a mantra for Barker, who likes to poke fun at those who say such a thing. But the Argos seemed to only get by a year ago, on a terrific defence, very surprising and unpredictable special teams play, and an offence that didn’t lose them games.
So what happened in Winnipeg on Friday night?
The Argos defence played a sharp game. The special teams were almost great and occasionally surprising (would have been better had Chad Owens caught the football a little better) but the offence was still lacking.
HITS AND MISSES
All night long, the normally reliable Owens had difficulty hanging on to the football. His late fumble after a short reception took away any chance the Argos had of coming back to win. Owens had trouble handling punts, as well, in Winnipeg ... Didn’t agree with Barker’s decision to kick a field goal with 2:12 to play, but it worked out well for the Argos. They got the three points, brought the score to 19-16 and had a chance to come back before the Owens fumble ... The difference between the tentative Lemon and the often erratic Buck Pierce at quarterback is the Bomber’s ability to improvise on the field. Pierce made a couple of terrific second-half scrambles that probably should have resulted in Argos sacks, but turned into big plays for the Bombers. Pierce plays with a certain ferocity — a poor man’s Matt Dunigan, really — that brings energy to his team. For his part, Lemon, even running for a touchdown himself, and not throwing the ball into traffic the way he did a year ago, doesn’t bring the kind of electricity to the game that Pierce does. On the negative side for Pierce, two time count violations in the first half of the game. That’s inexcusable for a veteran quarterback ... Does Lin-J Shell start talking before the game starts and not stop until it ends? ... Impressive debut by the Bombers receiver Clarence Denmark, who hurt the Argos catching the football and running it ... Wasn’t this barrage of dumb Argos penalties supposed to come to an end with the retirement of Adriano Belli? But there were way too many situations Friday night when the Argos were undone by their own lack of discipline ... Give the Bombers defence credit for controlling Cory Boyd, but the Argos have to find a way to get the ball into their star running back’s hands more often or turn him into a better decoy. Winnipeg did a much better job utilizing Fred Reid than the Argos did finding places for what looked like a beaten-up Boyd. But Boyd will need to do a better job with pass protection in the future ... In the end, the Argos turned the ball over five times. You can’t win doing that at home or on the road.
A REAL FOOTBALL PLAYER
If you don’t appreciate Noel Prefontaine, you don’t appreciate football. He is more football player than kicker and shows no signs of slowing down in the later stages of his career. His Friday night included: A well-thrown completed pass on a faked punt, three field goals, a tackle, and far too many punts. It doesn’t seem to matter what it is Pre does — his long field goal gave the Argos their first win a week ago in Calgary — but whatever he does, he does well and with an infectious passion.