Argos O-line must improve in a hurry

Argos head coach Scott Milanovich maps out a play during practice while quarterback Ricky Ray...

Argos head coach Scott Milanovich maps out a play during practice while quarterback Ricky Ray follows along. Both are hoping for improved play from the offensive line on Saturday. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI Agency)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:48 PM ET

TORONTO - No excuses are being presented, no shortcuts taken, no room for error when so much is on the line for the Argos this season.

There is a lot on the plate of Wayne Smith, Toronto’s starting left tackle whose job is as important as any on the roster, whose play on every snap looms as large as any downfield throw or cut-back run.

In football, linemen toil in anonymity, their identity revealed only when a penalty negates a big play.

It happened to Toronto’s revamped O-line when a Rick Ray to Spencer Watt touchdown was called back on a holding penalty to Smith during last Saturday’s 19-15 loss at Edmonton, one of many Argos miscues on the night.

There’s no one in Argoland more accountable than Smith and no one puts in more time that this former first overall draft pick, who spent last season as a backup guard in Hamilton and the previous years battling injury.

More than anyone, Smith knows Toronto’s offensive line has to get better and is unwilling to make excuses.

“Individually, and as a unit, we need to get better,’’ Smith said.

“It’s a growing process, but we need to get better fast.”

The latest test arrives on Saturday when Calgary pays a visit as the Argos usher in their home opener by honouring the 1971 team that would lose to the Stamps in the Grey Cup.

Whether it’s discipline, finishing off drives, putting points on the scoreboard, there is a lot that needs to be done by the Argos, who, despite their ineptness, lost by four points in Edmonton when Noel Prefontaine left five points on the field, one on a missed field goal that would result in a single, and the other on a miss that hit the uprights.

The latter miss, ironically, followed the Watt touchdown that got called back.

Smith knows it’s up to the offensive line to establish an identity, an edge the team clearly had in recent years with the likes of Dominic Picard and Rob Murphy.

“Naturally, every day when you spend more time, the comfort level is improved,’’ Smith said. “But we don’t have time for the growing pains.

“We need to get better ASAP.”

In fairness, it does take time for a line to gell, especially this Argos line which has only one guy who began last season as a starter — left tackle Chris Van Zeyl.

“For the most part, Wayne did well,’’ head coach Scott Milanovich said of Smith’s debut last week. “There’s a couple of plays he’d like to take back, but you can say that about anyone.

“Wayne’s a talented guy, he’s physically talented and he’s like the rest of us, getting used to the new surroundings.”

For Smith, it is new, but it’ll soon grow old if he and his fellow linemen aren’t able to impose their will.

What makes Smith so refreshing is his drive to re-establish himself in a league where many have privately questioned the Argos in turning to Smith to provide that blind-side protection for an elite quarterback.

Of course, he can’t do it alone.

And there’s no way the Argos will beat Calgary if 18 penalties are committed, if two chip shot field goals aren’t executed and if no ground game is established.

From the moment Milanovich first addressed his team, the message has been discipline.

“As players, we just lost sight of it,’’ Smith said of the flag football in Edmonton. “We’ve been preaching discipline, penalties and turnovers from Day 1.

“There’s nothing different as far as the approach. We as players just have to be disciplined with ourselves. The coaches have harped on discipline from the very first meeting.”

STAMPS QB TURNING HEADS

As someone who once lined up under centre and spent years working alongside Anthony Calvillo in Montreal, Scott Milanovich understands what it takes to play quarterback.

Admittedly, Toronto’s rookie head coach hasn’t studied Drew Tate on film, an exercise left for defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones, but Milanovich likes what he’s seen of Calgary’s starter.

“He has moxy,’’ said Milanovich. “He seems to have that innate ability to be a leader out there. And you can tell by his mannerisms that his teammates believe in him. From what I’ve seen he has control of that huddle.”

In last week’s season opener, Tate led Calgary to a convincing win over the Als.

For years, Henry Burris was the starter in Calgary, but the move to Tate was made last season, a change in direction that led to the off-season trade of Smilin’ Hank to the Hammer.

“He (Tate) replaced a great quarterback,’’ added Milanovich. “That says a lot about him as well.”


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