Argonauts earn failing grade in chemistry

Argonauts wide receiver Prechae Rodriguez has a pass knocked out of his hands by Tiger-Cats...

Argonauts wide receiver Prechae Rodriguez has a pass knocked out of his hands by Tiger-Cats defensive back Bo Smith at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ont., Oct. 1, 2011. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:06 PM ET

TORONTO - The buzzword around the Toronto Argonauts these days is “chemistry.”

Mostly, they haven’t got it. Mostly they are trying to figure out how to find it. Mostly it is a nebulous, ghostly quality that disappears about the same time as the kickoff on any given Argos’ gameday.

Talent they can draft, or trade. Running backs come a dime a dozen from the U.S. college ranks. Every year the draft of Canadian college players brings offensive linemen, a sprinkling of receivers and a dash of linebackers.

All of it is well-defined. The process of acquiring the pieces is transparent.

But the chemistry of combining those pieces is tricky.

You can’t coach chemistry. You can’t teach it. But one thing is certain. When you haven’t got it; you know.

And, the Argonauts know they haven’t got it now. They never found it with Cleo Lemon at quarterback. They have yet to find it with Steven Jyles.

“I don’t think it matters who was in at quarterback. Unless you execute as an entire offence you won’t have success. It’s never just a quarterback. Until we execute at a higher level we’ll continue to struggle,” Jyles said. “It’s chemistry. Chemistry, man. It’s a matter of detail. I’m trying to get on the same page with these guys.”

Too often, it looks like they’re not even reading out of the same book.

Lemon never found the right page in one and a half seasons. Jyles missed training camp and the first nine games this season. His deep threat is a 22-year-old kid from Simon Fraser University named Spencer Watt, who himself is fighting to figure out this league and this game. He’s the fastest Argonaut on the field but his background is in track. When it comes to chemistry with his quarterback, he has heard about such things. But he has never actually felt it. Ever.

“I haven’t had too much chemistry with any quarterback, to be honest,” said Watt. “I know what it is ... but in university we were constantly switching quarterbacks. Here it’s been the Cleo-Dalton Bell situation. And now we have (Jyles). I know I need to improve getting open a lot more. Then maybe he’ll have more trust in me.”

Faith. It is what pro football teams live on. It is the primary ingredient in most quarterbacks’ chemistry set. It is what quarterbacks survive on and what receivers need to thrive on. And, right now, too often the Argos are playing in hope, but not in faith.

They will get an extra day of practice with their next game not until Monday in Montreal. But it takes more to build chemistry and faith than running a few extra routes on a practice field.

“It’s doing extra hours sitting with your quarterback, watching a lot of film,” said Watt. “It’s studying defences and talking about how I’m going to run my route and the timing of the quarterback and how he’s going to throw the ball. Sometimes the quarterback will just take one, two, three steps and if you’re on the same page he’ll know where you are when he makes that drop. That’s one thing we need to do better.”

The on-field practice is more an exercise in trial and error. “You’ll go on the field and then you see on film where you went wrong and sit with the quarterbacks and figure out how to fix the play,” said Watt.

That takes time. It takes familiarity. The instability in the Argos’ roster hasn’t provided enough of either. Receiver/return specialist Chad Owens is convinced the 3-10 record doesn’t reflect the Argos’ talent. It does reflect a team that miscommunicates. It reflects a team with a tendency to beat itself.

“If you turn on the film, some games we had a lead and just couldn’t finish. We had penalties at the wrong time,” said Owens. “We gave up big plays at the wrong time. We’re not scoring when we should. When you turn on the film and look you say, ‘damn, if we had just done that one thing. If I’d just run that route this much better we’d have connected.’”

But they don’t — connect, that is.

Chemistry, said head coach Jim Barker, is not something he can coach. But he has learned to recognize when it is missing, especially in this season of tumult. “Where you lose chemistry is when you get guys pointing fingers. Obviously when you don’t win, some really bad things show up in people’s character. You find out the most about people in adverse situations.”

And, the Argos have become experts at adverse situations. When Lemon went into a public sulk after being benched, he was cut. Read into that what you will, but whatever chemistry was there, blew up big time.

“There’s always a silver lining when you go through something,” said Barker. “We’ve had a lot of adverse situations. I’ve learned a lot.”

The Argos have five games to play; five chances to play with the chemistry; five chances to find a blend of aggression, finesse and artistry that doesn’t blow up in their face.


Videos

Photos