Argos plan something 'special' for Als

Argos quarterback Cleo Lemon hands the ball to slotback Andre Durie during practice Wednesday in...

Argos quarterback Cleo Lemon hands the ball to slotback Andre Durie during practice Wednesday in Mississauga, Ont. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:30 PM ET

TORONTO - In a year where so much has gone wrong, where every potential turn for the good has turned into a turnover, it’s becoming clear the Argos’ special teams unit needs to step up.

It did last week in Edmonton when Matt Black emerged as an unlikely hero, returning a punt for a touchdown that would give the Argos a fourth-quarter lead.

The lead would be fleeting, one of many moments the Argos have failed to seize in a season where the margin for error grows smaller with each passing week.

What made the Argos such a feel-good story last season was their ability to make plays on special teams, their willingness to push the envelope and resort to savvy trick plays that helped Toronto either gain momentum or play on a shorter field.

As well as the Argos’ defence has played this season, the unit is far from being complete, its most consistent being its front four, which played arguably its finest game last week in harassing Ricky Ray all night.

Even when that late first-half time confusion unfolded, the Argos held strong and defiant, finally yielding a touchdown when a score seemed almost inevitable given the bizarre nature of the circumstance.

Cleo Lemon’s history is one of inconsistency and only the most delusional clings to the hope that the light will finally go on, that Lemon will suddenly know how to manage the run game, that the art of hook sliding will all of a sudden be mastered.

It’s why the Argos have to insert the ‘special’ back into special teams, playing with that edge on every cover and return unit that helped Toronto to its 9-9 record last season and a berth in the Eastern final.

It goes without saying in football that all three phases — offence, defence and special teams — must be won to win games, each area as important, but no area carries more potential in three-down football than special teams.

“We haven’t played a complete game on special teams,’’ conceded special teams coach Mike O’Shea, who was referring to every aspect, be it on kickoffs or punts, whether it’s on cover units or on returns.

“When we put together games where all phases are running at a very high level, it’s a lot of fun to watch. When that happens, it usually turns out to be the game where we help us win.

“We need to do that, especially when we’re 1-4. The special teams need to be the catalyst that gets us the win.” It has to be when no evidence has been provided that the offence can be counted on to win games.

Lemon’s sample size of efficient quarterback play is so small that it’s hard to see him playing an entire game the way he began the game in Toronto’s home opener to Winnipeg two weeks ago.

It’s possible, of course, because anything is possible, but it’s unlikely nonetheless.

Defensively, the Argos’ secondary doesn’t exactly subscribe to football’s ball-hawk theory.

In fact, only the Als have forced fewer interceptions than the Argos, who are tied for second last with B.C. in forcing three picks.

Only one Argo defensive back, Dee Webb, a fill-in starter who normally backs up the unit, has produced an interception, the remaining two courtesy of Ricky Foley and Tristan Black.

Against the Als, the Argos will show different fronts, obviously, but the game plan, at least it was last month when the two teams met in Montreal, is to be fundamentally sound in wrapping ball carriers on underneath routes and on check downs.

And it’s why the special teams unit must provide that infusion O’Shea spoke of, an injection that is long overdue on a team whose luck is long overdue to turn in its favour.

It’s hard to see the Argos winning a game if Thursday’s kickoff turns into a track meet given how lopsided Montreal’s advantage is at quarterback.

Montreal forced turnovers last month and its offence did score a remarkable touchdown following a Chad Kackert fumbled pitch in the shadow of the Als’ end zone.

One advantage the Argos do enjoy over Montreal is special teams.

Even if Noel Prefontaine, a game-time decision, isn’t able to play because of his sore quad, Grant Shaw is more than capable, as long as he doesn’t over-kick every attempt.

The Argos have experienced some painful lessons, the most recent involving Shaw when he had to handle every kicking duty when the veteran Prefontaine was a last-minute no-go in Edmonton.

“We have a lot of confidence in Grant Shaw,’’ added O’Shea. “When he hits the ball well, he has quite a booming punt.”

And it’s a boon Toronto’s special teams is hoping to embrace.

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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