Argos need a go-to receiver

Newest Argo Demario Ballard. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI Agency)

Newest Argo Demario Ballard. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI Agency)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:37 PM ET

Everywhere one looks across the CFL landscape one will see a go-to receiver, some guy who will draw defenders to his side, some guy who will make a play when a play needs to be made in a winnable game.

In Hamilton, rookie Chris Williams continues to evolve.

In Montreal, Jamel Richardson represents the measuring stick when it comes to all receivers, while in Winnipeg the role is assumed by Terrence Edwards.

Out West, Geroy Simon is the heart and soul of the Lions offence; Fred Stamps sets the tone for the Eskimos; Nik Lewis in Calgary and Weston Dressler in Regina with Chris Getzlaf and Andy Fantuz not far behind.

In Toronto, home of the last-place Argos, the search continues, a process that’s been as elusive as developing a bona-fide quarterback from within, which hasn’t been seen since arguably the days of Joe Theismann.

It was interesting to note that head coach/GM Jim Barker referred to this CFL season as one where virtually no team, except for his own, has had an issue at quarterback.

And the jury is very much out on Steven Jyles, who will make only his third start Saturday night when the Argos play host to Winnipeg while honouring the 1991 Grey Cup champion Argos, the Matt Dunigan-led unit that featured Rocket Ismail, Paul Masotti and Pinball Clemons.

No one can rewrite history, but at the same time no one has been able to replace Arland Bruce, whose feud with Bart Andrus led the Argos to trade their explosive slotback to Hamilton early in the 2009 season.

No player has eclipsed the 1,000-yard barrier since Bruce’s departure and only one player, Chad Lucas, has had more than one 100-yard receiving game.

In a pass-happy league, the lack of a deep threat, or at least some threat to stretch defences or some receiving presence in the score zone is staggering.

Unless Andre Durie, Toronto’s leading receiver by default, suddenly lights up in the season’s final seven games, the Argos will yet again complete an 18-game schedule without a 1,000-yard receiver.

Even if Cory Boyd is running roughshod, forcing opponents to load up on football’s proverbial box, a receiver simply must beat his man in coverage when man-to-man coverage is used.

Timing — with whatever quarterback — is always a factor, but at the end of the day it comes down to Toronto’s ability to find a receiver, develop him and allow him to flourish.

It’s yet to happen, a deficiency that has prevented the Argos from establishing any kind of decent offence.

“It’s a position where we need to find some playmakers,’’ Barker acknowledged.

It’s as obvious as Toronto’s 2-9 record with no obvious remedy other than the obvious, which is to say better scouting and developing.

This is where wearing two hats — that of role of head coach and general manager — may cloud Barker’s decision, but he’s not the type to allow any personal allegiance to interfere with roster moves. At least he says he isn’t.

He’s committed to Brandon Rideau, who has all the physical tools but has yet to put them all together over an extended stretch.

Maybe it says a lot when one considers that Jeremaine Copeland is the best of the lot, even though the veteran is best suited as a third option in underneath routes, used occasionally when a deep ball comes available.

There are three other receivers: Sammy Tranks, who filled in earlier in the season when Rideau got hurt, the well-travelled Prechae Rodriguez, and now the latest hopeful, Demario Ballard.

Ballard, without much fanfare, was added on Tuesday after being released by the NFL’s Detroit Lions where a guy named Calvin Johnson calls home.

“A beast,’’ Ballard said of Johnson.

At 6-foot-6, Ballard himself is a beast, but he’s raw. He had contact with the Argos prior to the NFL lockout.

When he arrived in Argoland, the affable Ballard didn’t know a single soul. His only connection involved his cousin, Minnesota Vikings linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who has a very casual relationship with Boyd, forged down south.

“There’s so much motion up here,’’ Ballard said of three-down football. “It’s going to take time to learn. You can come out of the backfield, from the side.”

That doesn’t sound like a guy who’s ready to play. But in fairness, time on the practice field and in the film room are what Ballard requires.

“He’s a very interesting athlete,’’ Barker said of Ballard. “A guy I’m anxious to get working with.”

Asked if his current receivers have been a disappointment, Barker wouldn’t concede anything.

“I’m not sure if disappointment is the right word,’’ he said. “We’re seeing what guys can do, what guys can’t do, where we need to improve. I think we got some really good players in here who are challenging.”

The Argos have waited this long; perhaps they’re prepared to wait longer.

But the price gets costlier.


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