TORONTO - The bye week meant different things to different Argonauts.
For starting quarterback Cleo Lemon, it was a chance to get back home to Jacksonville and spend some time with the family.
For new defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer, the break was an opportunity to work on the club’s defensive schemes and familiarize himself with the offences of the seven other CFL teams.
And for head coach Jim Barker, the week off was an ideal opportunity to work on something he has been working on for years, though not always successfully.
Barker says he’s been trying to mentally leave the game, and the team, behind when he’s away from the field and the office. Sometimes, Barker said, as a head coach and GM, the game becomes all-consuming, to the point where it’s actually a detriment to one’s health.
“For my own well-being, and for these guys (the players), I need to be able to turn it off and not immerse myself so deeply into it — when it almost feels like I’m drowning,” said Barker, in a moment of candor.
“It’s something I’m trying to get better at. I’m trying to get better at turning it off. But it’s such a huge part of your life when you’re doing this on a day to day basis.”
To that end, Barker and his girlfriend, Hilda, left town following the Argos’ 24-18 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders a week ago Thursday at the Rogers Centre. They first went to New York City and saw four plays in three days, then toured Niagara Falls on his birthday. All the while, the Argos head coach tried to avoid his cell phone and not worry about the all-important second half of the season, which begins Friday night when the Argos host the B.C. Lions. Both sides are 2-6 and will be in a dog fight to make the playoffs. Still, by and large, Barker said he was successful at tuning out job for a few days, and recharge his batteries.
“Maybe there were moments when I was daydreaming and thoughts came back to (the team). But, for the most part, I had very little daydreaming. We kept ourselves very busy,” he said. “Sure, there were things I had to do on a daily basis, some general manager-type things. We have scouts down at the NFL camps. So I wouldn’t say I completely threw the phone away.”
The Argonauts were back at practice on Sunday and Barker expressed optimism that Lemon, who has been impressive in his past three starts, will continue to improve as the Boatmen press for a playoff spot.
“We need to see him moving the offence consistently,” said Barker of Lemon, who completed 20 of 28 pass attempts against the Roughriders for 169 yards, with no interceptions. “I think we were a little inconsistent against Saskatchewan. He didn’t play a horrible game, but he didn’t play up to the level he’d been playing. We need him to play at a high level every week. This league is very competitive and it’s a quarterback-driven league, and he understands that.”
Barker said his second-year QB has improved because he is understanding the league and the Argos’ offence better. And that, said the coach, makes him a more relaxed player. However, that sense of calm will be put to the test when QB Steven Jyles returns from the disabled list later this week and will be eligible to play Sept. 10 at B.C. Jyles took reps at practice for the first time on Sunday after suffering a shoulder injury last season in Winnipeg and undergoing surgery.
“At some point, he’s going to play. We need to see what we have and I think he’s a guy who’s going to make Cleo better,” said Barker, adding that Jyles has a long way to go before he’s game-ready.
“If Cleo continues to play at a high level and we win games, then there’s no need to think about a change. But if that doesn’t happen, then obviously you think about taking a look and see what you have there.”
For his part, Lemon said he is not worried about having another QB breathing down his neck, even one as talented as Jyles, who threw for 2,804 yards and 19 touchdowns in 16 games last season.
“There’s always other people,” he said. “No matter if they’re standing on the field with you or out on the street waiting to get a call. You always have to play to your highest ability. Am I worried about a guy coming in? Not at all.”