TORONTO - Two games into a season is way too small a sample size to draw any conclusions, way too early in a process that can change from week to week in such an unpredictable league.
But so far, so good — at least when it comes to how Argos head coach Scott Milanovich has handled himself and taken accountability.
When players were going offside, dropping passes or missing field goals in their season-opening four-point loss to Edmonton, Milanovich never pointed the finger.
And when the Argos attempted to convert a third and short from the shadow of Calgary’s end zone, it was Milanovich who shouldered responsibility, saying he made the mistake of not knowing a touchdown was required, not just a first down.
As it would play out, the officials in control of the yardsticks were the ones who committed the gaffe, mistakenly leaving the sticks up when they should have been down.
On the play, backup quarterback Jarious Jackson was stopped in a sequence that then led to Toronto’s defence forcing a two-and-out.
On the ensuing punt, Chad Owens returned it 11 yards to Calgary’s 44-yard line, from where Ricky Ray led the Argos on a scoring drive, capped off by a 15-yard touchdown throw to rookie wideout Dontrelle Inman.
Big picture, it was Milanovich’s handling of that botched third down that revealed the kind of coach that GM Jim Barker had envisioned when he relinquished his duties.
Selling the game of football is not in Milanovich’s character, so the Argos can only hope their entertaining display on Saturday will somehow draw crowds.
Barker continues to do his part in surrounding Milanovich with pieces, but it’s the rookie head coach who is quickly emerging as the team’s prized catch.
There’s a consistency to Milanovich’s approach that the players have embraced, a willingness to adapt and a commitment to hard work.
Ultimately, the Argos, like any other team in the CFL, will be judged on how they close out their season. The final six games represent the measuring stick as the race to the post-season begins.
But this season is unlike any other in Argos history with the historic 100th Grey Cup to be played in Toronto, an opportunity that is both a blessing and a curse because nothing short of an appearance by the Boatmen will suffice.
For now, Milanovich is doing his part.
His accountability is refreshing, his play-calling speaks to his preparation in sizing up an opponent, and his growing relationship with Ray is clearly moving in the right direction.
No longer are people wondering if Ray will ever complete a pass or feel comfortable in his new surroundings.
Had the Argos done a better job in finishing off drives with touchdowns on Saturday, their 39-36 win would not have been decided on the final play.
When 525 yards of offence is produced, when the run game provides balance, when two receivers eclipse 100 yards, there is plenty to be inspired about.
It begins with Milanovich. His call to activate Chandler Williams at the expense of Chad Kackert proved right. On a day of big plays and big mistakes, one of the most critical was produced by Williams. After the Stampeders had tied the score 36-36 late in the fourth quarter, Williams returned the ensuing kickoff 34 yards. A Ray to Andre Durie catch and run that would net 36 yards then set the stage for Noel Prefontaine’s game-winning field goal from 28 yards on the last play.
Barker always had faith in Milanovich as a head coach and it should now be apparent to all why.
There’s still plenty of work that needs to be done, but it’s a journey that Milanovich seems well-equipped to handle.
Pulling up the covers
By the time the Argos visit The Hammer this Saturday to play the Ticats, the special in special teams must be part of the equation.
Larry Taylor’s ability to change games has never been in doubt. His 125-yard touchdown return following a missed field goal and his 64-yard punt return that would lead to a game-tying major for the Stampeders were two of the biggest plays on a day of big plays during Saturday’s home opener.
But when a guy, no matter his pedigree, is able to post a 292-yard game, the onus clearly shifts to special teams co-ordinator Mike O’Shea and his cover units.
A lot gets masked when wins are produced, but whether it’s finishing off drives, starting a game with defenders over-anxious, areas surface that require cleaning up.
And no area demands more fine-tuning than Toronto’s cover units.
O’Shea is as detail-oriented as any coach, fully aware a performance such as Saturday cannot and will not be tolerated.
The Argos special teams unit did provide ideal field position and a field goal did emerge as the game-winner, but there’s a lot of work that must be done.