TORONTO - Jim Barker spent much of the season backing a quarterback he admits lacked leadership.
Running back Cory Boyd says the Argonauts would’ve done better if he’d been given more carries.
Jeremaine Copeland, the veteran receiver, says he was not targeted enough.
On the surface, it would appear all is lost for the Toronto Argonauts.
At 3-10 with no reasonable chance to make the playoffs, it would seem a wasted season. A season of disillusionment. A season of dreams unfulfilled.
“We’re 3-10 and I’d give up all those yards to flip that record,” said Chad Owens, who, along with the special teams unit is the silver lining in a season gone amok. He is on track to become the first player in pro football to hit 3,000 all-purpose yards in back-to-back seasons.
“Last year I was special teams player of the year, but no chance at a Grey Cup. This year I’ll be a 3,000 all purpose guy and potentially no playoffs. It’s bittersweet. I don’t know where this year went; expecting big things for this team and making that Grey Cup run. It’s difficult to know you’re so much better than what you’ve put up.”
The question is, how much better is this team really than the one that went 9-9 in 2010.
The season started with questions surrounding the quarterback. And, those questions remain for anyone not named Jim Barker. The season started with question marks at the receiver positions — questions that with five games remaining still exist.
The offensive line has been decimated by injuries. And while the defence has had some good moments they have not been dominant as advertised.
The only way this team makes the playoffs is if they win out the season and Hamilton and Winnipeg both manage to not win another game. Even with Buck Pierce determined to keep running into brick walls it’s difficult to see that happening.
But Wednesday, when the Argos reconvened to prepare for a Thanksgiving Day game in Montreal, they practised like it mattered. “If they approach it any different than if we’re 13-0 then they’re not a professional. And they’re not the kind of guy we want in this organization,” said Barker. “If they wake up in the morning and sleep in 15 extra minutes and not come when they usually come to watch film, then shame on them.”
He doesn’t see Boyd or Copeland’s desire to get the ball more as disrespectful of the club’s play-calling.
“(Copeland) is a competitor. Everyone wants to do more to help us win. That’s not a bad thing. Being public with it, I don’t know how great that is. Boyd wants the ball. Chad (Owens) wants the ball. They all want the ball. That’s natural on any football team. I don’t look at it as disrespectful.”
Barker allows the Argos are a better team when Boyd gets more carries. In his two seasons as an Argo the team has lost just once when he’s had a 100-yard game.
“I believe our coach is challenging other guys to be playmakers,” said Boyd, who is averaging seven carries less per game than in 2010. “I just can’t get frustrated and can‘t get angry about things that I can’t control. “Coaches have been on me all year saying don’t get upset if you don’t get the ball. They’re challenging other guys to be playmakers. It’s not like they’re punishing me. It’s just they’re putting a lot of the burden on others. Last year they put a lot of the burden on me. I didn’t even finish the year. I was broke down. That didn’t help my team either.”
The last five games will be about sorting out the stars they thought they had, from the ones they don’t know they’ve got. So, practice roster players will get looks, and the receiving corps needs sorting out. But Owens, Barker and Boyd agree this team is better than its record; better than last year.
“Last year we did a lot of things right and things fell well for us. This year a lot of things didn’t fall well for us. Not excuses. It just didn’t,” said Barker.
He claims Jyles can be to Toronto what Henry Burris became to the Stampeders and what Travis Lulay has become in B.C.
“When I say we’re further along; the one thing you have to have is an established quarterback. You can’t go to a Grey Cup without a guy like that. We almost did last year (with Cleo Lemon). Was he the right guy for the future for us? No. Now we have a guy we can build this around.”
Of course he said they’d build with Lemon, too. But, then, he gets paid to say that stuff.
“I’m not going to knock on Cleo. But what (was) I going to do but support him,” said Barker.
So, what makes Jyles, who has yet to prove he can win in this league, different than Lemon?
“Leadership. His ability to run. His understanding of the league. He has four years in where Cleo had a year and a half. The biggest thing is the way Steven is perceived in our locker room. That’s the most important thing a quarterback has to have,” said Barker. “I believe we have a better leader.”