Eiben an endangered Argo

Toronto Argonauts kicker Noel Prefontaine (7) celebrates a field goal with his holder, linebacker...

Toronto Argonauts kicker Noel Prefontaine (7) celebrates a field goal with his holder, linebacker Kevin Eiben during the team's lone win this year, over Calgary. (REUTERS)

Bill Lankhof, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 8:00 PM ET

Kevin Eiben wasn’t sure where he stood Friday.

On the sidelines.

Or at linebacker.

Hurt? Or not hurt?

It all depended on who you asked.

And, if this keeps up, the time may yet come when the question becomes: Argonaut? Or not an Argonaut?

Every season football players come and football players go. The Argonauts without Eiben is like the Yankees without Jeter or the Oilers without Gretzky.

It doesn’t seem possible. Yet, it is the unhappy truth of professional sports. Bidding farewell hurts even more when the player leaving is publicly revered, still productive, and by all accounts a pretty decent bloke.

But none of that can stop the stalking of time. Eiben is 31, the team is rebuilding and as early as training camp head coach Jim Barker was pointing to younger, resilient bodies. So, before this season is over, they may be asking themselves: Is it time for Kevin Eiben to go?

Not that he’s done anything wrong. The guy was an East Division all-star last year.

But the Argos have been hinting for some time now that they have, ahhh ... options.

Sometimes these things happen: And there it was Friday in black and white on the Argonauts’ depth chart: Starting at linebacker were Anthony Cannon, Ejiro Kuale and seven-year veteran Jordan Younger. Sure Eiben has been nursing a sore calf, but that’s where it all gets confusing.

Eiben claimed to be “100% healthy.”

Head coach Jim Barker said he’s still “coming off an injury”. You figure it out.

Eiben, approached after Friday’s final walk-through for Saturday’s home opener against Winnipeg, maintained he was still the “starter” at linebacker.

Barker? Not so much.

“The depth chart? I’m ahead of him (Cannon). I’m the starter,” said Eiben, sounding as if he hadn’t heard.

Maybe Barker’s signal-calling hadn’t reached Eiben yet. Either that, or he was just being coy.

“Cannon right now is the starter there,” said Barker. “Kevin is just coming off (a calf) injury and they’ll both play.”

The team has been going with a four-man rotation at linebacker. In that sense nothing has changed — except that the fourth guy now is Eiben, who will come on to satisfy the Canadian content ratio, Barker said, “whenever (Ricky) Foley comes off.”

Fair enough. But Foley is pretty much rooted at defensive end, meaning Eiben’s role becomes mainly as a holder for lefty-kicker Noel Prefontaine. Important? Yes. But if he’s healthy, as he said, it’s a comedown. Not to mention, there’s a financial consideration: after Labour Day the salaries of veterans become guaranteed. If the Argos don’t intend to play Eiben, the question is, do they intend to pay him? Or, let him go?

It’s speculation. But, it wouldn’t be the first time a star has been let go mid-season by a CFL club. Eiben has been a Toronto football institution. The Argonauts are the only CFL club he has played for in a decade of excellence. He has had 90-plus tackles three of the past four seasons including 100 last season.

But he was pressed during training camp by Kuale and Barker has been effusive in his praise of Cannon.

“Right now Kuale and Cannon are playing very well,” said Barker. When Cannon came in to replace an injured Eiben, he had 11 tackles last week.

“He’s explosive to the ball, he just really is!” said Barker. “He is just one of those linebackers when he sees a crease he shoots it. Now sometimes he gets into trouble. But more often than not he’s making plays. You look around whenever there’s a big play he’s right around it.”

As to where this leaves Eiben, he made it evident it was a topic he didn’t much wish to discuss. “You know what; it’s just another game. It’s Game 4 on the schedule. If I’m starting, I’m starting. If I’m not, I’m going to get in there and play when I play ... do what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years; flying around and having fun.”

Eiben has given his football life to the Argonauts. Sentiment suggests that he deserves to finish his career in Double Blue. Sentiment wants him to go on forever, flying and having fun, in Double Blue. But sentiment, much like Eiben, often ends up getting pushed to the sidelines.

 

CANNON SHOULD GET SOME SLEEP

 

Anthony Cannon will be sleepless in Toronto.

Cannon said Friday that getting his first shot as a starter in professional football after four years makes a guy think. And think. And think. And ...

When he is introduced to the home crowd Saturday as the starting linebacker for the Argonauts it will be a little bit special. “It does get you going a bit. That first defensive snap you know you’re going to be out there with 11 other guys. It does make the night before a little longer — you think about it a little more. You just want to do well.”

There have been times when Cannon never expected to hear his name; his welcome; the roar of the crowd. He was drafted out of Tulane by the Detroit Lions but when he was released in 2009, he gave up football until deciding to make a comeback with Toronto.

So, he didn’t come with high expectations. “Throughout my career I found if I had expectations and then they didn’t get met you get down on yourself and start questioning your ability.”

That’s what happened in Detroit.

“I never really had an opportunity to play defence there. I knew what I was capable of but other people make those decisions. When my expectations there didn’t get met, it was disappointing. I knew how I felt so second time around, I just wanted to get better every day.”

He’s been getting so much better he’ll start Saturday. “I don’t want to say it’s an accomplishment,” he said, then admits, “it means a lot what my peers think of me.”

 


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