Argos roll dice on Rodriguez

Prechae Rodriguez catches a touchdown pass against the Lions last season while playing for the...

Prechae Rodriguez catches a touchdown pass against the Lions last season while playing for the Roughriders. He makes his Argos debut Saturday against Hamilton. (Reuters)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:02 PM ET

TORONTO - Sometimes fate just brings two people that need each other together.

In the case of the Toronto Argonauts those two people would be Prechae Rodriguez and Jim Barker.

Rodriguez is a man on his fifth CFL team in three years and his third team this season alone.

The Tampa native knows this is likely his last chance. He knows the pressure is on.

“I’m trying to look at it like my chances are running out because that is the reality,” Rodriguez said Wednesday. “But I also look at it like God has blessed me again with another opportunity to show this league I am capable of being a big play receiver. I just have to take it by storm.”

Rodriguez is a proven commodity in the CFL — if on a limited basis. In 2008 as a rookie with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Rodriguez went over 1,000 yards in receiving despite playing just 14 games. He also had seven touchdowns on his way to being the Eastern nominee for the CFL’s outstanding rookie award.

In the 2 1/2 seasons since that fine debut though, Rodriguez has dealt with a knee injury that cost him a quarter of the 2009 season, and a trade to Saskatchewan which was already awash in receiving talent, leading to his release.

This season he started with Montreal, played a game but did not record a catch, played three with Edmonton when Fred Stamps went down, was released when Stamps came back and then signed with Toronto.

That fine rookie year is sinking further and further into the background and Rodriguez knows he has to produce soon or risk it being the only legacy of what began as a promising professional career.

The fit here in Toronto is what has Rodriguez so excited.

“It’s why I’m licking my chops.”

Rodriguez has not only the pedigree but the combination of athleticism and size that set a good receiver apart from an average one.

At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds and with a leaping ability honed on the basketball courts in his native Florida, Rodriguez is a nightmare match-up for most cornerbacks. And at 26 years old, he’s still very much in his prime.

“It’s going to work,” Rodriguez says of his talents meshing with Toronto’s needs. “I just have to re-build that confidence in me to take over a game because I know I can.”

For Rodriguez confidence comes quickly when he sees the ball a lot.

“Just being at home on the field and knowing that nobody can stop me, only I can stop me,” he said of how he builds confidence. “When that ball is in the air, it’s mine. I will try to take everything to the house.”

Barker desperately needs a game breaker in his offence. Rodriguez will start this week in place of Brandon Rideau who has shown flashes of being a go-to guy but has just not done it consistently enough.

As Barker says “Brandon has done an adequate job but we’re looking for that go-to guy who has a presence about him. Brandon has gotten to where he is and now we’re going to see where Prechae is. He has come in and looked very, very good so we will take a look at him.”

In Rodriguez, Barker has identified the very type of player his team is lacking. But Barker is also aware of the difference between realized and unrealized potential.

Barker is hoping beyond hope that Rodriguez turns out to be that guy who regularly makes the big play.

Rideau made a few for the Argos this year as did Andre Durie and even Sammy Tranks once, but outside of that, the big play has been on the endangered species list for the Argonauts’ receiving corps.

“When you’re a guy who was rookie of the year and all of a sudden you can’t catch on with three other teams it either means you’re ultra lazy or you’re not very smart and can’t learn systems or you’re a bad guy. I don’t think Prechae is any of those things. I think he’s just a guy who got himself in some situations and we’re going to see what he can do,” Barker said.

Barker sees no reason he can’t help unlock the Rodriguez who had that standout rookie campaign.

“He wouldn’t be here if I didn’t (believe that),” Barker said. “He has done nothing but show us what an excellent human being he is. He has been anything but lazy. He has been (in practice) the other team’s best receiver for the two weeks he has been here and he has earned a chance to show what he can do.”

mike.ganter@sunmedia.ca


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