Defence must carry Argos

The Argos hit the field at the University of Toronto campus in Mississauga, Ont., for a walk...

The Argos hit the field at the University of Toronto campus in Mississauga, Ont., for a walk through on Friday. (DAVE THOMAS/QMI Agency)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:08 PM ET

TORONTO - He looks at the game film from the first time Toronto’s new defence played under co-ordinator Orlondo Steinauer and disbelief crosses Ricky Foley’s face.

Actually, it was more a look of stunned disbelief given the many miscues that would be committed in a game that eventually would be won by Hamilton.

“We looked terrible against those guys,’’ Foley said on the eve of Saturday’s rematch, a kickoff that will move the Argos close to unofficial playoff elimination if a victory isn’t achieved.

Just to illustrate how bizarre these Argos have become, consider the fact that Toronto’s two best offensive players from that night in the Hammer, quarterback Cleo Lemon and Brandon Rideau, are no longer in the team’s plans.

Lemon was officially shown the door, while Rideau has unofficially been shown the door when the club announced on Friday that its big wideout had been placed on the practice roster.

By rules, any team can claim Rideau. By rules, such a move means the team must then activate Rideau.

While the Argos offence is now a run-dominated attack that just hopes to make the occasional play through the air and play as close to error-free football as possible, the defence has reached its stride.

When Foley looks back at the Steinauer-led debut to now, he sees plenty of improvement, a unit where strengths are being utilized and plays being made.

Whatever chance the Argos have, and they are slim in making the post-season, it must rest with their defence.

Given his position as defensive backs coach, Steinauer’s knowledge was limited to the back end of Toronto’s defence from a personnel perspective.

When he was promoted to co-ordinator, it was natural Steinauer would learn more about his down linemen and linebacking unit the more be began to spend time with them and grade their strengths and weaknesses.

The biggest issue with the Argos is time because time is clearly running out.

“Everyone is finding their roles right now,’’ Steinauer said. “We’re just hoping it’s not too late.

“Until we’re mathematically eliminated, making the playoffs is the outlook I’m taking. Period. I can’t be swayed from that and that’s the message I’m sending to these men.”

When he called plays from the press box back on Aug. 13, it was the first time Steinauer had been asked to assume such a responsibility.

“There was no uncertainty, but it was new and different,’’ he said. “I had never done it and with experience you should get better.”

And he has and so has Toronto’s defence, culminating with last week’s effort that featured a defensive touchdown, a first for the unit this season.

It’s the growth of the players and not his growth that remains Steinauer’s priority.

“I hit them with a new slab of expectations, where I thought they were and where we needed to go. They’ve bought in and I feel we’ve played solid football for the last four weeks or so.

“Obviously, solid football and winning football are two different things.”

Steinauer’s approach is to make the defence think collectively as an offence, which is only achieved through preparation.

The more it understands of the opponent’s approach that week, the more Toronto’s defenders are able to play with additional freedom, which lends itself to making plays.

“Having fun is another big thing,’’ Steinauer added.

Foley’s big game last week earned him top Canadian honours, recognition that was the byproduct of Steinauer’s defence.

“He’s catering to our strengths,’’ Foley said. “And it’s good to know what a coach knows what to expect from you.

“I’m excited for the rest of the season to see what he has in store for us. He let’s us play ball.”

The return of Jordan Younger certainly will help and Jason Pottinger’s return has definitely helped.

What Pottinger has provided at middle linebacker is a calming presence, a return that has allowed Ejiro Kuale to play his more natural position at weak-side linebacker.

Younger, who once lined up in the secondary with Steinauer, was moved to strong-side linebacker last season at the request of Steinauer when Jim Barker took over as head coach.

Saturday’s challenge will be a familiar foe with the stakes much higher.

“I’m not a guy who is going to b.s. anyone,’’ Foley said. “I’m not going to say that it’s going to be easy (to make the playoffs), but we’re lucky in that we have two games (remaining) with Hamilton.”

But it begins with Saturday’s meeting.


Videos

Photos