Argos face team challenge

Toronto Argonauts quarterback Cleo Lemon (L) is seen in action in front of Montreal Alouette's John...

Toronto Argonauts quarterback Cleo Lemon (L) is seen in action in front of Montreal Alouette's John Bowman during their game in Montreal on July 15, 2011. (REUTERS/Rogerio Barbosa)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:35 PM ET

TORONTO - As the leash gets shorter by the minute for Cleo Lemon, whispers of frustration begin to bubble to the surface.

It’s a long season, of course, and there’s still plenty of time to remedy issues that have been laid to bare for two straight weeks, but as of today the biggest area the Argos must tackle is to remain as a team.

Veteran receiver Jeremaine Copeland understands how things can quickly go south when a defence is forced to play too many minutes, when an offence is incapable of producing enough first downs and points, when losses mount and explanations grow hollow.

“It is a long season and if we stick together, we’ll be all right,’’ Copeland said.

It was curious how the Argos did not take advantage of their greatest offensive strength in Friday night’s loss to the Als by not relying more on their offensive line to run the ball.

No unit is as experienced as the down linemen, no area as important than controlling the line of scrimmage.

It’s a very proud and mature group that must feel slighted, a unit that was challenged a week earlier following a long night in Winnipeg.

As they prepare for Saturday’s long-awaited home opener, there’s a lot on the plate for the Argos to digest.

Whether Lemon starts or whether the Argos turn to Dalton Bell, it’s of little consequence if a ground game isn’t able to be established and turnovers aren’t eliminated.

“We can recover from those things,’’ veteran Jeff Johnson said when asked about the 10 turnovers the Argos have now committed in back-to-back losses.

“We can recover if we can nip it in the bud right now.”

Whenever Cory Boyd does return, it still doesn’t address the Argos’ lack of making plays on offence when plays down the stretch have to be made.

In Montreal, the Als outscored the Argos 17-0 in the fourth quarter.

Interestingly, in the days leading up to Friday’s kickoff, head coach Jim Barker wondered aloud what kind of team the Argos were capable of becoming, especially when matched up against the measuring stick in the form of the Als.

If people aren’t aware, the Argos are a team that relies too much on its defence and almost needs a big play or two by its special teams to compensate for an offence that has regressed.

“I’ve been telling our younger players that the difference between championship teams and a team that wins one round in the playoffs is making plays down the stretch,’’ defensive end Ricky Foley said. “We have to make plays that count just like they (Als) did.

“And until we make plays down the stretch, we’re not as good.”

Lest anyone gets the wrong impression, Foley wasn’t pointing a finger at the offence because the defence, as well as it did play, could have made more plays.

And as well as it did play, for the Argos’ defence to get to that next level, it has to score, much like Montreal did when it forced a goal-line fumble and returned it 108 yards for a major.

There will be plenty to chew on as the Argos regroup this week, but time is of the essence.

The team’s marketing theme has been all hands on deck, a slogan that will be put to the test on the field.

How the Argos respond to this early season challenge will help reveal the team’s cohesion.

FOLEY GIVES ARGOS OPTIONS

As if any evidence was necessary to reveal just how far ahead the Argos’ defence is when compared to its offence, Ricky Foley provided it.

In the process, he showed a versatility that opens up so many different possibilities in terms of expanding the defence.

For most of the night, Foley dropped back from his usual defensive end position and served as an extra linebacker, essentially giving the Argos a 3-4 look.

An interception, a career-first for the York product, was produced and eight tackles recorded.

And given how little time Foley was given to learn the nuances, it speaks to his physical gifts.

“I basically had three days to learn the position,’’ Foley said.

When he played at York, Foley got some reps in the backfield and even lined up at tight end.

“Ricky Foley is an exceptional athlete,’’ safety Willie Pile said. “He’s got size and he can do a lot of things.”

But when a team loses two straight to drop to 1-2, a lot more things have to be accomplished.


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