Argos' O-line has can-do attitude

The Argos' Joe Eppele (right) runs down the field during practice on Sunday. (Alicia Wynter/Photo)

The Argos' Joe Eppele (right) runs down the field during practice on Sunday. (Alicia Wynter/Photo)

Bill Lankhof, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:06 AM ET

TORONTO - It was a most unfortunate parody: Garbage cans being used to mimic the Argonauts’ offensive line.

Five of the huge refuse containers stood upturned on the practice field Sunday, a metaphor for the engine that must drive this team from the cusp of playoff obscurity.

Not a hopeful sign, some might suggest.

There has been no more maligned group at this year’s training camp then the offensive line. To be blunt, they’ve been called everything from has-beens to never-weres and a lot of unpleasant things in between.

And, all this before they have even played a single meaningful down as a unit.

Such deprecation could be upsetting.

But Jeff Keeping looks insolence in the face, and smiles with the wisdom of a pragmatist.

“This is pro sports. There is no time to be upset,” said Keeping. “For us, we’re confident in the guys we have. We feel we have a strong group of guys, smart guys, very fit. We feel the work we put in camp will let us peak when the season starts and we’ll let our work on the field do the talking.”

This is an offensive line in flux. Gone are Dominic Picard, Taylor Robertson, Rob Murphy and Edawn Coughman. This, according to many football pundits, makes the O-line the Black Hole of Toronto’s offence.

Of course the argument can be made that even with them, it still made the Argonauts the worst offence in the CFL.

In Saturday’s mock game, it was the offence that out-shone the defence. And, part of the reason, was an offensive line currently under reconstruction.

“We did some really good things” said head coach Scott Milanovich. “The protection for the most part was really good. We did some bad things, too. We overshot on some runs and ... there were at least one, maybe two holds, that should’ve been called but weren’t. But they’re coming along nicely.”

Keeping, after eight CFL seasons as a backup guard and tackle, is getting a shot at taking over for Picard at centre.

Sunday he was taking snaps with Wayne Smith at left tackle, Cedric Gagne Marcoux at left guard and Joe Eppele and Chris Van Zeyl on his other side.

“We’re moving them all around to find the right fit,” said Malinovich. “It’s hard for them because they like to know who is next to them so they get a comfort level with the communication and to have guys set. There’s room for improvement but Ricky had a nice pocket (in the mock game).”

Marc Parenteau, who started 18 games in Saskatchewan last season, is pushing Keeping for the starting job.

“Right now they’re pretty close. They’ve both done some good things; both made some mistakes,” said Milanovich. “It’s getting to the point where we’re starting to expect some continuity. One of them will start to separate themselves when we get into some pre-season games and some live action.”

For Eppele, slotted in Robertson’s former spot, this is his season to prove himself after being the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft. It is not a stretch that the Argos will go as far as the offensive line can take them. Or, by extension, as far as Eppele & Keeping Inc. can evolve into an immovable force.

“There’s been a lot of uncertainty on the O-line and the offence does go as the O-line goes,” said Eppele. “The quarterback can’t make passes without blocking and the running backs don’t have any holes. We need an upbeat cohesive o-line. This year we have a great group ... we’re going out to bust our ass.”

And if they don’t, offensive line coach Steve McAdoo will bust it for them. Line play is a ballet in aggression. It has a language all its own, and so Sunday the 11 offensive linemen stood off by themselves in one end zone as McAdoo drilled them about footwork, critiqued angles, loops, called out a continuum of numbers that set 300-pounders pirouetting like dust devils over the sun-soaked turf.

“It’s hard to describe coach Mac. We love him because he’s our guy. He pushes us. He doesn’t sugar coat anything,” said Keeping, grinning. “He’s going to get on your case. He lets you know when you mess up. He will find some way to let you know if you’ve done OK but he’s not really concerned with when you do well, he’s on you when you’re making errors. Which is what you need. As a pro you’re expected to do it right so when we don’t you expect him to get on us.”

Rather the coach, than the fans.

Rather now, than after the season begins.

“Games are won and lost on the line of scrimmage,” said Keeping, “We know that. We have a great defensive line and we just have to match them with a great O-line.”

quick hits

The Argos have signed T.J. Williams, a defensive back who attended the Jets’ mini-camp this season ... Toronto completed a trade that sent offensive lineman Chris Patrick to Saskatchewan in return for a conditional 2014 draft pick. Patrick, who played with Edmonton in 2011, wasn’t expected to make the Argos’ roster.

HEAT IS ON ARGOS

Training camp is heating up for the Argonauts.

Both the thermometer and injuries are taking a toll.

“It was tough (but) I think it was good for us. Guys had to push through it,” head coach Scott Malinovich said Sunday as the mercury rose into the mid-30s.

Several players, notably Kevin Huntley, were helped from the field due to the heat. Huntley did return. So did Ricky Foley as trainers treated others, draping cool, wet towels over heads.

“One side of the ball had some intensity; the other side didn’t. The defence came back (after Saturday’s mock game) and (practiced) well today,” said Malinovich. “(Defensive) coach (Chris) Jones got on them this morning. The offence felt sorry for itself (had) heavy legs and they didn’t come to play.”

Malinovich could have been speaking literally, as well as figuratively. The receiving corps is depleted. Scott Barnes continues to prowl the sideline with his left ankle wrapped. Andre Durie has been limited with an undisclosed “tweak”. Maurice Mann has a 25-stitch cut on his leg. Samie Parker didn’t take any snaps Sunday and rookie Jesse Hubbard is out.

On the defensive line, Claude Wroten has been seen getting treatment on his back.


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