Argos ready to rev it up against Lions, twice

Argos kick returner and wide receiver Chad Owens runs with the ball during practice in Mississauga,...

Argos kick returner and wide receiver Chad Owens runs with the ball during practice in Mississauga, Ont., Aug. 11, 2011. (JACK BOLAND/QMI Agency)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:00 AM ET

TORONTO - Jim Barker hasn’t spent the past two practices standing before his Toronto Argonauts and demanding that they grasp the importance of their next couple of games.

“They’re pro football players,” Barker, the Argos head coach and general manager, said after the club worked out at Erindale in Mississauga on Monday.

“They know what is at stake.”

Though it might be a stretch to say the future of the Argos’ 2011 season could lie in the outcomes of a pair of games against the B.C. Lions, a couple of losses to David Braley’s other Canadian Football League team would strike a rather large blow to the Boatmen’s playoff hopes.

All is not lost for the Argos in the East Division, given they’re just four points behind the Hamilton Tiger-Cats with 10 games remaining, but wouldn’t it be easier to knock off the Lions and hope the Saskatchewan Roughriders don’t recover under Ken Miller, thereby putting the Argos in legitimate crossover territory?

“It’s pretty much playoff time for us every week now,” offensive lineman Taylor Robertson said. “Every game has that kind of importance to it. Having B.C. back to back may prove huge down the road.

“The crossover is huge. It’s something we’re not really looking at too much right now, but it’s still in the back of our minds.”

The Argos and Lions clash at the Rogers Centre on Friday night, a tilt that will officially kill the Labour Day Classic between the Argos and Ticats for this season. In Vancouver on Sept. 10, and Argos and Lions hook up again. A week later, the Argos are in Regina to play the Roughriders, who will start September with a 1-7 record, the worst in the CFL.

“This is the real meat of the season,” returner/receiver Chad Owens said.

The Argos gave themselves a lift when they beat the ’Riders heading into their bye week, but the good feelings mostly have dissipated.

Fact is, the Argos are a 2-6 club, and there is plenty of work to be done on both sides of the ball if a playoff berth is to become reality.

Big questions remain. Can Cleo Lemon continue his modest but definite improvement, or will Steven Jyles become the starting quarterback not long after he is activated off the nine-game injured list next week?

Will Orlondo Steinauer have time to make enough of an impact on the defence so it starts scaring other teams again?

For Barker — who undoubtedly won’t mind when TSN’s filming of a continuous Argos documentary ends this week — there’s a difference in the air.

“I see a fresher team, a team that is refocused,” Barker said. “They’ve come back to play with a passion in the second half.

“(The bye week) came at a perfect time for us. We had lost six in a row, and we won a game over a team that had been to the Grey Cup for two straight years and is known for coming from behind, and we were able to hang on and get a win.

“Now we have a 10-game season. (The Argos’) focus and their dedication to this half will tell the tale of where we are going as an organization.”

One obstacle the Argos have to get past if they’re going to establish themselves as contenders is putting in a full 60 minutes. In eight games, it has not happened.

“We have come out of the gate strong,” Robertson said, “and we have started to come out after half time better as well. We have to keep it going in the fourth quarter and put teams away if we have that opportunity, not let them come back like we have before.

“The Saskatchewan game was a perfect example. We were up (24-4) and they almost scored (late, to win the game). When we’re ahead, we have to keep the pressure on, and not even give teams a shot to come back.”


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