Cleo Lemon, in the grand scheme of things, has three games to get it right.
With one victory in their first six games — in other words, one-third of the 18-game Canadian Football League — the Argos continue to sputter on offence. The presence of Cory Boyd in the backfield could help change that against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Saturday night at Ivor Wynne Stadium, but no matter what Boyd does, this is an offence that needs desperately to show a sharp upturn in the passing game.
The Argos simply don’t gain a lot of yards in the air with Lemon under centre. They’re last in the CFL with 1,399 passing yards for an average of 233.2 a game.
Steven Jyles, acquired from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the winter to either give Lemon a run for the starter’s job or to take over outright, will be eligible to come off the nine-game injured list in time for a game in Vancouver against the B.C. Lions on Sept. 10. That will fall right in the middle of the Argos’ most important stretch to that point, when they have home-and-home sets with the Lions and Saskatchewan Roughriders, teams that also have 1-5 records.
While it can be a danger to think too far ahead, it would make sense for Argos head coach and general manager Jim Barker to go a different route with the quarterbacks if Lemon can’t start leading the team to wins. In fact, it’s a move that would have to be made. Though Dalton Bell did not fare well in a start against the Edmonton Eskimos on July 29, he remains part of the mix.
“I don’t think there is any more (pressure for Lemon) in the next three games than there have been in the last couple of games,” Barker said. “He understands where he is and where our team is at and what he needs to do.
“It’s not about Jyles. It’s also about Dalton, who we are comfortable going to. When you get Jyles off (the injured list), you add another guy. It gets interesting.”
Lemon threw for 314 yards last week against the Montreal Alouettes, the only time in 2011 he has cracked 300 yards and just the second time he has done it as an Argo.
No one has to tell Lemon the aspect of his game that has become crucial.
“Consistency,” Lemon said. “You have to be consistent. I have to come out and play every week. That is the pressure I put on myself to do. For us to win, I definitely have to play well and now is the time to put a W on the board.
“Hamilton is a good team and we are desperate for a win.”
Lemon won’t have non-import receiver Spencer Watt as a target for the Aug. 13 Classic. Watt has not practised this week as he is nursing a hamstring injury, and his absence means more time for Mike Bradwell. And there’s a chance Djems Kouame could be activated from the practice roster.
If a casual observer happened to stop by an Argos practice and watch Jyles, he might wonder what the nature was of the newcomer’s injury. Jyles is throwing the ball with accuracy, and with each day that goes by, is getting stronger. That he had surgery on his throwing shoulder toward the end of last year no longer is apparent.
Lemon’s job description, in the eyes of Barker, has boiled down to some pretty clear basics.
“He needs to be a guy who can win a game when we have to have it,” Barker said. “He did it against Calgary. We had to have two drives at the end of the game and he took us down on both drives. He has to be a guy that when our defence is struggling, we are able to stay on the field.
“Just be an overall leader out there. He is getting better and better at it. Our players have a lot of confidence in him. This is his time to step up and show that he is a player or show that he is not going to be a great player in this league.
“It is going to be over the course of these next few weeks.”